Between March 16 and April 5 of this year, SAFE had 41 child abuse/parenting related calls. Last year during the same timeframe, SAFE had just 17 calls.

Our social media feeds are now filled with a mix of joyous stories of family hikes in bluebonnets and family movie/game nights contrasted with painful, stressful, sad stories of losing loved ones, financial struggles, fear of illness/death, empathy of for those on the frontlines, stir-craziness and balancing work-life-homeschooling.

Sometimes it is just too much.

Sometimes families already had challenges and this is bringing them to their breaking point.

Sometimes the current crisis is bringing up pain, trauma and fears from the past and coping skills are maxed.

Sometimes the pain is numbed with alcohol, drugs and hurting others.

Sometimes being told to stay-at-home puts families in danger-at-home.

I went to bed one night with the sinking feeling that maybe some people are not social distancing because their home is not a happy, safe home. Maybe some kids are in particular danger right now because their teachers are not privately accessible to them to report their abuse and neglect. Maybe some people are stuck at home with their abusers and cannot privately report their assaults. I couldn’t sleep.

I wanted to know if my fears were valid and reached out to the SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone) Alliance, which provides shelter/housing, digital and face-to-face support for victims of abuse.

SAFE provided me with the following statistics:

  • Between March 16 and April 5 of this year, SAFE had 41 child abuse/parenting related calls. Last year during the same timeframe, SAFE had just 17 calls.
  • When people began self-isolating, the number of family violence calls to SAFEline spiked from our average 45 calls a day to about 65. But those numbers went back down to average and, in fact, are now lower than average. We believe this decrease is because people are stuck at home with someone who is using abuse – the person who needs to contact us may not have a safe place to make that call or send that text message to our SAFEline.

The problem is real, but there is help.

Please read the following information provided by Liz Cruz Garbutt, Senior Director of Family Support and Advocacy at SAFE, in order to help yourself and/or others who might be in need.

What can a mother do if she is at her breaking point?

If children are in safe place, step into another room or go outside for deep breathing. Take 10 deep breaths and repeat until the feeling of being overwhelmed subsides. You can also ask for help. Call a family member or friend. Call the SAFEline at 512.267.SAFE (7233), Text: 737.888.7233 or chat online at www.safeaustin.org

Remember that your children are precious and need your calm and consistent guidance.

Use your hands for hugs and words for encouragement and cooperation.

SAFE has a free Parent Education and support program, Strong Start, which is for parents of children 0-11 years of age who are seeking positive strategies to improve their kids’ behavior and reduce the stress of parenting.The referral form is located online.

There is also a Fatherhood program designed to empower people who identify as fathers to connect with their children in a healthy and nurturing way.

What steps could a mother take if she and her family aren’t safe in their home?

Here are some critical steps a mother can take if she and her children are not safe in their home:

  • Assess the situation to know what she can do to keep herself and the children safe.
  • Identify patterns or triggers and abuse or violence, and be prepared to remove herself/children if possible.
  • Maintain a level of connectedness – social, cultural and spiritual. Be prepared to reach out to friends, family, or neighbors for support and/or safety.
  • Develop a physical safety plan. Anyone can call our 24/7 SAFEline anonymously for help creating a detailed safety plan.

A safety plan may include:

  • A document, screenshot or drawn map to nearest crisis relief center or meeting place in case family is separated or needs to meet. Make sure to inform and practice with your children if possible.
  • Save phone numbers in a notebook in case your phone is not available or in working condition.
  • A prepared “go bag” in the event that you and/or the kids needs to take a break, visit friends/family while practicing safe distancing, or stay somewhere during a cooling period. Make sure the “go bag” has important documents, money/credit cards, medications and/or sanitation supplies (Examples: ID, soap, hand sanitizer, cold/flu medication).

Develop an emotional safety plan:

  • Create a schedule for yourself to practice grounding exercises, meditation, prayer, or whatever is right for you.
  • It’s okay to cry and to have feelings. Plan a time for yourself to release your emotions in a safe, quiet space during some alone time.
  • Support yourself and your children by talking or writing about fears and concerns in a space and during a time that is safe to do so.

Resources for Assistance:

  • The SAFE Alliance 512.267.SAFE (7233), Text: 737.888.7233 or chat online safeaustin.org/chat.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224
  • (TTY) or chat online at www.thehotline.org/contact
  • National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474 or www.loveisrespect.org
  • Texas Council on Family Violence at 1-800-799-SAFE or www.tcfv.org
  • Texas Legal Services Center Family Helpline (questions related to CPS or CPI) 844-888-6565 or www.texaslawhelp.org // Hours Mon-Fri 9am-6pm

What are signs that a child or woman is being abused?

The signs of abuse are not always obvious. Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel afraid of your partner?
  • Does your partner say things like, “You can’t do anything right”?
  • Do you get embarrassed by your partner’s behavior toward you?
  • Do you avoid topics or situations out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Do you believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may need to take a closer look at the dynamics of your relationship and consider if it’s safe or not.

Here are some warning signs of child abuse and the different forms that abuse can take:

  • Physical Abuse: Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained.
  • Sexual Abuse: Fearful behavior (nightmares, depression, unusual fears, attempts to run away); abdominal pain, bedwetting, urinary tract infection, genital pain or bleeding, sexually transmitted disease; extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child’s age.
  • Emotional Abuse: Sudden change in self-confidence; headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause; abnormal fears, increased nightmares or attempts to run away.
  • Emotional Neglect: Failure to gain weight (especially in infants), desperately affectionate behavior, voracious appetite and stealing food.

What can someone do if they felt that someone that they know is not safe in their home?

For family, friends, or neighbors, remember the survivor is the expert in her own home and relationship. The survivor knows the other’s triggers, habits, behavior patterns and responses more than anyone else. Talk to them and listen to their suggestions and understand that whatever you think they should do may not work for their particular situation. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want your help.

Be present during conversations. Calmly listen to the person who is trusting you with their personal information without interruption, judgment, or dismissing their truth.

Remember violence is never the victim’s fault. Refrain from judging, preaching to, victim blaming, and talking down to them for being in the relationship, staying in the relationship, or not leaving the relationship

Try to be available when they are. Survivors do not typically have control over time. They may need to call during early or late hours, or at random times. They may be reaching out while the abusive partner is asleep, showering, or out of the house.

Be part of their safety plan. Keep the plan, all information shared, and current status/location confidential with the understanding of when the survivor wants you to check in on them or reach out for help.

Do not involve the children by questioning or interrogating them. If your home is designated as a space to play or spend the night, allow them their space and peace.

Offer help finding the support they want to be connected to.

Also, trust your instincts about your own safety and the support that you can offer. Support them in the way that you can.

Don’t justify the power, control, violence, or abuse. If the abusive parent or partner is your family or friend, refrain from rallying against the victim.

And if you witness physical or sexual abuse or neglect of children, please report the information to Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) at 1.800.252.5400 or online at www.txabusehotline.org. Call 911 for immediate help. In Texas, all adults are mandated reporters of child abuse.

Violence and abuse happens outside of a global crisis as well. How can Austinites support SAFE now and in the future?

SAFE can always use support from our community to serve families in need. Financial support as well as in-kind donations, are greatly needed and appreciated especially right now. Currently, our shelters are low on a lot of basic needs items, like baby wipes, diapers, hand sanitizer, and nonperishable foods. On our website safeaustin.org, we have a page dedicated to Ways to Give: https://www.safeaustin.org/ways-to-give/.

There are families in desperate need of this help and guidance, and I am grateful that SAFE is here to support our community.

 Please share this information to bring awareness that help is available.

Photo Credit :: Laura Samuels Photography

Dr. Allison Hall, PT, MPT, DPT is part of tight knit party of five plus two rescue dogs. All three of her children were born in London, England during her family’s great decade abroad. She and her husband both grew up in Texas and returned in 2013 after purchasing a home after seeing it only via webcam. She finds joy in walking in nature, traveling almost anywhere, learning new things, pondering life intensely, caring for others deeply and doing anything that makes for a good laugh with family and friends. She is a pediatric physical therapist and the CEO/Founder of My Kid Blooms (mykidblooms.com), a digital resource for parents to find pediatric/OBGYN health-related information and professionals that match the needs of their families.

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