Utah families need more resources to counter concerns of a slumping economy and the pandemic, which could subject more children to abuse and neglect, the group Voices for Utah Children contended.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and while verified cases in Utah remained steady last year at about 10,000 incidents, experts fear the actual number could be significantly higher.
Maurice Hickey, CEO of Voices for Utah Children, said evidence of abuse is often discovered at school or a visit to the pediatrician, but the pandemic has kept many kids at home.
"We're hopeful that the number's not going to increase over the past year," Hickey stated. "We have heard anecdotally to expect an increase, though, simply because of people being quarantined in enclosed space and in situations that they can't avoid."
And while the overall case number in Utah is low compared to some other states, Hickey noted the rate of incidents per 1,000 children is above the national average.
He argued policymakers need to provide parents with better tools to manage stress and improve their child-rearing skills.
Hickey added his group is pushing for lawmakers to adopt new programs, such as increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, to help low-income families find a path out of poverty.
"A lot of research, a lot of data shows that if we can stabilize families, both economically and in health care, that we have better outcomes and lower incidences of child abuse," Hickey contended.
Hickey stressed it has always been important, especially during the pandemic, for families to have access to good mental-health care, particularly in rural areas and on tribal lands.
"We've done a lot over the past couple of years advocating for mental-health services in Utah," Hickey remarked. "And that's one area where we have a lot of work to do, still. We have a lot of mental health deserts where there's just not providers."
He pointed out Voices for Utah Children doesn't provide direct services, but works to develop policies that help schools and parents raise healthy kids, and provide them with the opportunity to reach their full potential.