“A lot of our community members are out of work and unemployment rates are through the roof. I think we’re still at a place where it’s unsafe for people to travel. Families are still together and bunched up inside a house and when in an abusive relationship that’s absolutely continuing,” said Colsaria Henderson, the executive director of Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse, the only agency countywide focused on ending domestic violence.
When coronavirus first began to spread across the region, professionals in the domestic violence assistance field became concerned as reporting began to decrease. What followed in San Mateo County was a major increase in the need for services such as emergency rehousing and grocery assistance. As needs have increased, already scarce resources have also continued to be depleted.
“We thought it would be a long-term problem with the economic downtown but instead of needing so much hotel and crisis services we thought we’d be moving that type of money into financial assistance, rental assistance, help with food,” said Henderson. “Instead we’re just seeing a steady need in both ends. It’s going to take a lot more to get through it. It’s time for us to really get creative.”
Since March, CORA has been housing survivors in hotels at 400% over budget while using up what little shelter space is available after the social distancing protocol was put in place. Making efforts to rehouse clients even more difficult is a slow turnover of rental spaces.
“We’re not accessing affordable housing, not that there’s much in the county anyways. And we’re not able to move people in because landlords aren’t moving and renting to a lot of people. As well as clients who lost their jobs don’t have income to [pay moving and renting costs] anyways. We’re not seeing enough of a rebound in the economy to fully affect the community we serve. It’s really going to be a long-term problem,” said Henderson.
CORA’s team has been mostly working remotely, responding to hotline calls from home. Daniel Holloway, the marketing officer for the agency, said calls to the hotline were up in June by 36% when compared to June 2019. And during a San Mateo County Domestic Violence Council meeting, it was reported that the county Victim Services Division has recorded a 15% to 20% increase in cases which appear to also be increasing in lethality.
“One thing that’s important we all keep in mind is that the numbers of domestic violence cases have always been high. One in four women, one in seven men and one in two transgender and non-binary people experience domestic violence annually,” said Holloway. “We’ve always been dealing with high numbers but now we’re seeing an increase of more people reaching out for help which is good.”
Both Holloway and Henderson expressed that the agency is working hard to continue providing services to anyone who is in need of assistance. Holloway explained the team is keeping their “head above water” while Henderson said staff is working to collaborate with partners in the public and private sectors on developing solutions.
“It’s been heartbreaking in some ways to not be as hands-on as we’ve been in the past but at same time this is the world now. We’ve always been worried about client safety so COVID is just another [concern],” said Holloway. “At the heart of our organization, we want to end domestic violence so when people reach out for help that brings us joy. We’d rather someone reach out than suffer in silence.”
Child neglect reporting decreases
While leaders in the domestic violence field work to provide assistance to those who need it, county officials also have their eyes on a decrease in child neglect reporting which has possibly been exacerbated by sheltering orders. John Fong, the director of Children and Family Services in San Mateo County, said the loss of in-person engagement between children and their teachers has made spotting cases difficult.
“Child abuse and neglect reporting is highly reliant on mandated reporters who come into contact with students in the community,” said Fong, “Those eyes and ears out in the community were impacted in terms of maintaining contact with our kiddos in the community day to day.”
For the first week of March when classes were being held in person, 150 cases of child abuse were reported to the agency’s hotline with 63 meeting criteria for investigation. The week following the shelter order, the number of reports dropped to 59 cases and for the last week of April, when remote learning was in full effect, the number of reports dropped to 49 with 11 of those cases warranting an investigation.
Typically, reports of child abuse drop moving into the summer months when children are let out of school, said Fong. Although children lose contact with teachers and staff members, camps and child care programs can serve as a safety net for children who may be experiencing abuse. But, as COVID-19 infections continue to rise, keeping child care operations down, those summer safety nets for spotting abuse have dropped substantially
Fong said child abuse and neglect reports to the county hotlines has decreased by 30% this June compared to June of 2019. He explained the decrease is consistent with previous summer months but data collected in July will provide better insight into how the infectious disease has affected reporting into the summer.
“Our mandated reporter and civilian community have much less opportunity to interface in person with children due to COVID-19. This includes summer school programs, camps, day care or the like,” said Fong through email. “We will continue to work with the San Mateo County Office of Education, and in partnership with the Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities to seek out opportunities to provide additional training, messaging content and practice strategies to raise awareness as we enter into the Fall of 2020.”
Please call the CORA hotline at 800-300-1080 if you or a loved one is in need of assistance. To report concerns of child abuse call (650) 595-7922 or (800) 632-4615 for the San Mateo County child abuse hotline. Visit corasupport.org for more information on services provided by CORA and hsa.smcgov.org/children-family-services for more information from San Mateo County Children and Family Services.