As the U.S. “celebrates” the year anniversary of the ongoing pandemic, more data are surfacing about not only the longterm health effects of the Coronavirus, but also the economic and psychological effects the virus has had our society. And yet, a new year is upon us, symbolic of restoration, revival, and hope. As our nation and our people move forward into uncertain times, Advocates for Children remains a beacon of hope and safety for people in need. It is no secret that many people lost their jobs in 2020. 

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 25% of U.S. adults reported losing their job or being laid off due to the coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, those within a lower income bracket struggled to pay bills, rent or mortgage, and health care costs at a greater rate due to this job loss. 32% of lower income adults and families reported problems with paying their rent or mortgage between February and September 2020. 

Despite some government assistance, serious issues are likely to arise regarding housing in 2021, especially when the temporary halt on evictions expires on March 31st. These financial hardships caused by the coronavirus may also be driving factors in the growing mental health crisis. The loss of employment, income, housing and food security threatens basic survival, creating immense amounts of stress on individuals and families. 

One Atlanta-area hospital reported a 15% increase in domestic violence cases during the shelter in place order in April 2020 , and a survey conducted by the CDC also suggests an increase in individuals displaying symptoms of anxiety and/or depression since the beginning of the outbreak. However, one of the most vulnerable populations to the mental health effects of the pandemic are children and youth. 

According to Golberstein, When, and Miller, 35% of children receive mental health services exclusively from schools. With many schools still engaging is some form of virtual learning, many children are lacking the support and visibility that is needed to prevent and report child abuse.

In 2020, the committed staff and board members of Advocates for Children saw these growing concerns and positioned the organization to address, treat, and prevent child abuse and neglect caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Thanks to emergency funding provided through the CARES Act, RISE now has the ability take on a larger case load by increasing their staffing. In addition, the program increased their emergency housing fund, which will get clients out of shelters and off the streets more rapidly. 

RISE is Advocates’ independent housing program that assists youth (ages 18- 24) and youth-headed families who are experiencing homelessness by placing them in permeant housing, providing financial assistance, and empowering participants through education. RISE is uniquely positioned to address the housing need that will most certainly arise when the temporary eviction halt expires March 31st. 

To address the mental health crisis, Advocates for Children ensures mental health services are available in every program, either directly or through referral. For example, the Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter offers individual and group counseling to all residents. Hope in Your Home, Advocates’ educational parenting program, provides support groups and referrals to individual care. Other financial and resource assistance offered through Advocates for Children’s programs includes access to formula, diapers, pull ups, and transportation services. 

These services were made possible through the generous contributions of individual donors in 2020. Despite the hardships of the 2020, Advocates for Children saw an increase of 200 additional individual donors from the previous year.

“The fact that individuals gave so freely in 2020 despite the uncertainty and fear really speaks to the goodness of our community,” says Renee Shields, Director of Development “That generosity has put us in an excellent position for 2020 to really address the needs of those at risk in 2021.” 

“We are also excited to expand our Prevention programs in the new year as well. While our Residential and Advocacy programs are not going anyway, we believe one of the best ways to combat child abuse is to address the driving factors before the abuse can take root.” 

While the world continues to real with uncertainty, fear, and hardship, Advocates for Children stands as a beacon of hope for their community. The promise they make is renewed in 2021, stating that whatever the cause may be, this organization is dedicated to combating child abuse in all its forms.

Advocates for Children is a non-profit organization that is committed to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Founded as a children’s shelter in 1983, Advocates for Children has since expanded and now includes eight different programs across eleven counties. 

The mission of the organization is “To strengthen our community of families by offering safety, comfort and hope to children and preventing child abuse in all its forms.” If you would like to learn more about Advocates for Children or how to get involved in these upcoming events, contact Renee Shields, Development Director, at renee@advochild.org

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