The school year is coming to a close. Children will be away from their regular routines, familiar daily activities and school support systems. For many families, summer is a fun break, but for other families living closer to the edge of the financial bubble, it can be a time of stress.
Summer camps and extended child care are an added expense for most families, and as a result, some children will be spending more time unsupervised over the summer. In addition, for children and families that normally rely on school resources such as free and reduced lunch, the summer can be a time of significant food insecurity.
Children will be out of contact with school personnel who can be a resource to many families in need. This makes it even more important for community members to step in and support children and families in your neighborhood.
Get involved. Children’s lives can be positively changed and even saved by active and aware community members making that critically important decision to ask more questions and offer help. Many situations and conditions are preventable once community programs and systems are engaged to support families.
Our Department of Family Services has some suggestions on how you can help.
5 Ways To Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect
- It’s often really hard to know if a child is being harmed. Sometimes we may see it happening with our own eyes, but other times we may only see signs of what could be happening. Be on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect, such as:
- Malnourishment, lack of personal hygiene.
- Unexplained bruises, welts or other marks.
- Significant changes in behavior, such as becoming withdrawn or fearful.
- Children who appear too young to be left alone.
- Home safety hazards or unsanitary conditions.
- Familiarize yourself with the Child Supervision Guidelines. There are no laws in Virginia that say when or for how long a child can be left alone. Parents are ultimately responsible for making decisions about their children’s safety. Every child is different and must be assessed based on their maturity, skills and comfort level to be home alone. However, all Northern Virginia jurisdictions agree that children 8 years old and younger should always be in the care of a responsible person. Guidelines state that children this age should never be left unsupervised in homes, cars, playgrounds or yards.
- Refer families to the Parent Support Line available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at 703-324-7720. It’s a great resource for parents and caregivers, offering parenting advice, support and tips to help navigate emotional and relational parenting issues. They can also connect families to resources that might help them to navigate circumstances that complicate their ability to parent well. Language support is available.
- If you have questions or concerns about a child’s safety, call the Child Protective Services’ 24-hour hotline at 703-324-7400. Our hotline staff can also provides families with help, guidance and referrals to supportive services. You may give your name (confidentially) or remain anonymous.
- Children thrive when they have regular interactions with responsive, caring adults. These positive childhood experiences can help promote healthy brain development and build resilience in families. Unfortunately, neglect is the most reported form of child maltreatment, and it’s more likely in families who are overwhelmed with circumstances and experiencing an overload of stress. The most important thing we can do to help children thrive is to support families before they reach a crisis. You can make a difference by mentoring or volunteering with teens, being a safe and caring adult in a child’s life or providing encouragement to struggling parents. Learn how.