COVID-19 has kept abused kids from the help they need — Congress can help
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Like so many vulnerable people during this unprecedented crisis, children victimized by abuse seem to be almost precision targeted by the nature of this pandemic. Children are overwhelmingly abused by a parent or other family member in the home, while two-thirds of all abuse is reported by teachers, police, doctors and other professionals who are no longer in regular contact with the children they care about.

We’re finally able to put a number to it: our nation’s children’s advocacy centers (CACs) — the 900 CACs who form the core of our nation’s response to child abuse — reported helping 40,000 fewer children in the first half of this year than they did over the same period last year.

Our CACs are hard at work reaching these 40,000 children, and presumably more each day, who have fallen through the cracks during the pandemic. Ordinarily, CACs serve some 370,000 children each year, offering mental health services, victim advocacy, courtroom support, and a non-traumatic forensic interviewing service, free at the point of service, coordinated to put the child’s needs first. Even so, hundreds of thousands more children still need access to the nation’s gold-standard response to abuse.

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That requires federal action. Congress has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to help CACs help kids in danger, during this crisis and long after, by fully funding the Victims of Child Abuse Act at $40 million in the next year.

We urge lawmakers and citizens to support America’s most vulnerable, our children, by supporting this increase in funding to the Victims of Child Abuse Act. This critical law provides operational support, training, development, and establishment funds to CACs around the country. It means more CACs, greater capacity, and, one day, not one child in America without the services they deserve.

This is not a shift of the responsibilities of local communities onto the federal government, either. The CAC response costs the country more than half a billion dollars each year as it is. We already know the most successful CACs maintain and grow their services through a robust, diverse blend of funding from a variety of sources, of which federal funds are just one small part.

Yet federal establishment and program funds are critical, especially in rural communities where children still have no access to a CAC, or where capacity to serve cases is still small. Guaranteeing children the opportunity to thrive is a federal responsibility that requires federal investment. With Congress’ help, communities can take it from there. It’s time for the federal response to catch up to the needs of communities they’ve been working overtime to meet for themselves.

The echoes of this pandemic will resound for years. With the support of Congress, that doesn’t have to include children suffering in silence because they never got the services they needed. Yet for children in areas without a CAC or enough services to go around, this crisis is ongoing. We’re calling on Congress to join us and rise to meet this challenge once and for all. The futures of America’s most vulnerable —our children — depend on it.

Huizar is the executive director of National Children’s Alliance (NCA), the national association and accrediting body for the nation’s 900 CACs.