Commentary: Support available for Delaware families to stay healthy

By Josette Manning

During the COVID-19 crisis, our public health mandate to flatten the curve of this disease could not be clearer: Stay home, physically distance ourselves from others and avoid trips that are not essential.

However, what happens when ‘staying home’ is the most difficult thing you can possibly do? What happens when ‘staying home’ is unsafe?  Too many families in Delaware face this unfortunate reality.

This global pandemic places extreme pressure and stress on families, which can create or exacerbate instability.  Isolation in and of itself can come with emotional and psychological stressors, but when compounded with lost wages, housing challenges, and other barriers to basic needs, like food, it creates a perfect storm. For families already in vulnerable and challenging situations, the additional stressors are overwhelming and can have tragic results.

The child welfare community is most needed in this moment, but we need your help to support vulnerable families.

Josette Manning

Since the start of this pandemic, child abuse and neglect calls to our hotline have decreased substantially. So far, in April, we are seeing a 60 percent reduction in calls compared to the same timeframe in 2019. This sudden decrease is not the result of a positive trend; rather, it is the result of a decrease in the physical connections children and families once had through school, work, community centers and other typical support networks. Recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect is more challenging now with everyone staying at home, but it is still our responsibility to make sure children and families are protected and supported, and that their struggles do not stay hidden in the shadows.

April is historically Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this year my Department’s mission to protect and support strong, safe and resilient families is more critical than ever and we need your help to fulfill our mission.  That is why, as we wind up the month, we are issuing a call-to-action to make a difference in a child’s life.

We want Delawareans to know that anyone can and should reach out if they are concerned about a child. If you know a child or family that was in a difficult situation before the pandemic, it likely has not improved during it.  Check in with them.  Ask if you can help.  Call us. 

The 1,400 staff members at the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families are here to help support families by getting them what they need to stay together and stay strong. While we have had to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, we are here, as we always have been, to help support families. 

Our child welfare workers continue to meet with families and make connections, but now they utilize technology to do more virtual check-ins. They continue to make necessary home visits but do so while taking precautions to protect themselves and the families we serve. Employees across our department continue to work with our schools, community partners and contracted providers to help families stand strong during this time of instability. Many providers are utilizing virtual technology to continue their services to our families, including early intervention and therapeutic services, student check-ins, parent education sessions and mental health and self-care. Together with our partners, we continue to help Delawareans address some of the root causes of family stress, like substance abuse, mental health, financial issues and traumatic experiences.

Ultimately, we know that we can prevent child abuse and neglect by ensuring families have what they need to be successful and feel empowered.  At DSCYF, we work to keep families together and help them be successful, even in the most difficult circumstances.  Help us achieve our vision of safe and healthy children, resilient families and strong communities by holding a light for a family in darkness that needs our help.

Call the child abuse and neglect hotline at 1-800-292-9582 or report online at iseethesigns.org 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can always report anonymously.

Together, we can make a difference in a child’s life. 

Josette Manning is the Cabinet secretary for the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.