Voices of Courage child advocacy

Melissa Birdsell, executive director with Voices of Courage, said calls to the center have increased since the lifting of stay-at-home orders.

Voices of Courage in St. Joseph is a child advocacy group working to help children in potentially abusive situations. They have recently seen a large increase in calls, since stay-at-home orders were lifted. They have passed the number of calls during this time last year.

The group noticed in March, when stay-at-home orders took effect, there was a 50% decrease in calls around the state.

COVID-19 shortened the spring semester and now kids’ return to school has been pushed back. Beyond the concern of the virus, there’s a group worried about how much time kids are stuck at home this year.

The executive director for Voices of Courage said school starting has some health concerns, but there is a need for teachers and mental health professionals to have eyes on kids.

“The main thing for us is the concern for children who don’t get to go into a school building. While I understand the health risks, we’re also trying to balance that concern with the concern for children who need to have a neutral set of eyes on them for their own safety,” Birdsell said.

The March drop in calls is something Birdsell said caught the attention of the child advocate community as a consequence of staying at home.

“That raised huge concerns for everybody in the child abuse and neglect community because we knew there was not all of a sudden a cure or relief for those children, we just knew a huge percent of the population who makes those hotline calls no longer has eyes on those children,” Birdsell said. “We know there has been lots of kids stuck at home with their abusers since March and that’s always a concern for us.”

There are ways to become that set of eyes as a neighbor. Birdsell said if you think there is something wrong in your neighborhood, don’t be afraid to call Voices of Courage to have someone at least check on the concern.

Morgan Riddell can be reached at morgan.riddell@newspressnow.com