Imagine you are a parent living in poverty for whom life can be a struggle even in the best of times. Now, perhaps, you’ve lost your job because of COVID-19; or you’re an essential worker, like a grocery checkout clerk or Amazon warehouse employee. Your job barely pays enough to get by, and now you have to worry every day about contracting coronavirus.
An acquaintance calls or texts with an offer to give you a little free time by distracting your children with a videochat. Or maybe a volunteer is willing to drop off food you can no longer afford – or don’t want to risk going to the store to buy.
Such simple kindnesses might be just what you need to manage the stress.
But do you dare accept such offers?
The answer should be a simple yes. But nothing is simple when what Prof. Dorothy Roberts aptly calls the family regulation system gets involved.
Because all over the country, as part of the whole false – and racially biased - “pandemic-of-child-abuse” narrative, child protective services agencies are working to turn those friendly volunteers into spies.
You know the rationale by now: The claim is that the only thing that keeps legions of nonwhite parents from unleashing savagery upon their children is ever-vigilant, mostly white, middle class professionals whose “eyes” are always on the kids. Now that these “mandated reporters” aren’t around as much, one news story after another warns of a “pandemic of child abuse.”
The solution? Turn every virtual visitor into a spy! Apparently, it’s so easy to detect child abuse that anyone can do it. Indeed, some advocates in Pennsylvania say you should just report a family for child abuse whenever your “gut” tells you to.
In Philadelphia, which tears apart families at the highest rate among America’s biggest cities, the Department of Human Services is offering even more help to this new corps of Junior Child Abuse Police. As they put it in a tweet:
When schools are closed, ensuring the safety of our children is up to all of us. Consider a virtual check-in if you have any concerns about a child’s welfare. Here are some tips to identify signs of abuse or neglect, virtually.
There’s a link (which I am not including here) to an entire script full of leading questions to ask kids, even as the kids and their parents are suckered into thinking the amateur child abuse investigator is just being friendly. That’s followed immediately by the number to call in a report.
Still not sure? Don’t worry, news articles include all sorts of broad, vague lists of symptoms that could be child abuse or neglect – or any number of other things. One such list includes “Flinching or avoidance to being touched.” That seems a bit out-of-date at the moment.
Topping it all off: Constant messaging intended to make the spies feel like heroes for turning families in based on their slightest suspicion.
Scaring families away from help
Now, consider what we know about what happens when all those mostly white, middle-class “mandated reporters” are keeping their eyes glued on all those overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite kids:
Research tells us that it overloads the system with so many false allegations and trivial cases that workers have even less time to find children in real danger.
And perhaps most important in this context: It scares families under stress away from seeking help.
So consider the paradox: The “pandemic of child abuse” theory postulates that, in the absence of middle-class white people watching them, poor people of color will break under the stress of coping with COVID-19 and take it out on their children. It is reasonable to believe that in a small number of cases that could happen, though we also should consider that in poor neighborhoods, a lower profile for child protective services actually eases stress.
But in that small number of potential abuse cases, even as the stress rises, parents who have not, in fact, abused their children now have to ask: Is the offer of help genuine, or might it be a way to spy on us, jump to conclusions and turn us in to child protective services?
So families under stress might actually be driven away from the help they need to prevent stress from leading to child abuse.
If there is, in fact, a spike in child abuse, it might not be because of COVID-19. It might be because of another contagion: Fear. And that contagion is being spread by child abuse police agencies themselves.