In combating child abuse and neglect amid a pandemic, parents share stories of creativity, coping and asking for help

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Anna and Bryson Creighton say a nightly ritual, ringing a meditation bowl, proved a sound coping mechanism for a couped-up family during the pandemic. Officials are encouraging families to find support systems to combat a quiet child abuse and neglect crisis. Screenshot via CDHS

AURORA | Faced with epic stress, confinement and isolation, Anna and Bryson Creighton found a new wellness ritual with their two young girls during the pandemic: a chakra singing bowl.

The Aurora couple sits with their daughters — one 20 months old, the other four years old — on the floor and rings the bowl, which sustains a melodic, soothing tone capable of smoothing out kinks after a chaotic day spent indoors. 

“And we ask them what they feel in their bodies, and if it makes them happy, sad or calm. And if they’re not ready to go to bed, we do it again,” Anna said. 

The little ritual is one of many tactics the family employed to stay sane as the months spent indoors ticked by. They’d visit the horses at their relatives’ farm regularly; they’d give each other space and learned when to ask for it. 

For their work, the Creightons and several other families from around Colorado earned shout-outs Thursday from Gov. Jared Polis, Department of Human Services brass and local childcare boosters. 

The parents swapped tales of craftiness and resilience but also stress and mounting piles of bills in a virtual meeting Thursday to kick off the state’s Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

With the event, officials hope to combat grim child abuse and neglect trends with renewed attention and healthy coping mechanisms in households. 

Nationally, child abuse and neglect proved to be devastating, albeit more quiet, issues underlying the health crisis COVID-19 brought last year. The Associated Press found last month that child welfare workers received far fewer reports of concerns as families became more and more isolated. As a result, government welfare departments initiated 200,0000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments compared with the same time period of 2019.

Local data mirrors that picture in Colorado: In March 2020, the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 844-CO-4-KIDS, saw a 13% decline in calls compared to the year before. 

That’s largely because, with schools closed and life stalled, teachers and other mandatory reporters who typically report issues didn’t have eyes on kids — not because kids were suddenly growing up in healthy environments. 

“That doesn’t mean that there’s less abuse out there,” Polis said of the figures. 

Experts have said that “risk factors” for abuse and neglect actually grew during the pandemic, including: loss of income, absence of child care or school, mental health declines and social isolation. 

In her Aurora household, Judith Padilla drew from a deep well of energy and the help of local resource providers to keep the wheels on. Padilla has seven children, four of which lived in Mexico with family during the pandemic.

Padilla said her income trickled in last year because of lost work opportunities and a leg injury. At home, her kids helped her with the rotating list of chores: laundry, cooking, doing dishes, cleaning. She loves to goof around with her kids, she said, which helped her keep a bond with them. On Thursday, she shared a video of playing outdoors with her kids after a deep snowfall. 

“…(W)hen it comes to mischief, we do that together too,” Padilla said in Spanish. 

But she said she was struggling to make ends meet. And faced with the prospect of asking for help, she wondered whether she had failed as a a parent. 

Resource providers assured her she had not. 

Soon, she was paying some rent with dollars from the Left Behind Worker’s Fund, an Aurora initiative disbursed by the Aurora Community Connection Center, Village Exchange Center and others to reach families largely ineligible for pandemic-era government assistance. Padilla said she doesn’t have legal status to live in the U.S. 

She turned to RISE Colorado, an Aurora nonprofit, for free food and fresh produce. She received prepaid cards to buy soap, shampoo and toiletries for her kids. 

Other parents shared tales Thursday of rough days and how they coped. A key theme: asking other people for help. 

“During the pandemic, it is even more important for all of us to reach out to the parents we know and ask how we can help,” Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the state’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, said in a statement. “Coronavirus has brought many unknowns but what we do know is that we need one another. Help a family when you can and know that it’s okay to call 844-CO-4-Kids if you’re concerned about a child or youth’s safety and well-being.”

Other welfare providers are launching their own meetings for Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

Arapahoe County’s Department of Human Services staff are set to meet with the new 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner Friday, April 2 for an online meeting, as part of the department’s Not One More Child campaign. See more information here. 

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