Teddy bears in windows 'comfort abused children during lockdown', doctors say

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Putting a teddy bear in your window may comfort a child experiencing abuse during lockdown, doctors have said. (Getty Images)
Putting a teddy bear in your window may comfort a child experiencing abuse during lockdown, doctors have said. (Getty Images)

Doctors have recommended people put a teddy bear in their window to comfort children who may be victims of abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned of a spike in online sex offences while the extreme restrictions have been in place.

Refuge – a charity working against domestic violence – also reported a 25% rise in calls for help, warning abused children are spending “concentrated periods of time with perpetrators”.

The doctors, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, said social isolation is a “proven risk factor for child abuse” along with stress and “worries about making ends meet”.

With schools closed, children are “no longer in the watchful eyes of their community”.

The doctors have stressed, however, we can all play a part in keeping youngsters safe and happy.

The doctors expect child abuse to 'surge' during the pandemic. (Getty Images)
The doctors expect child abuse to 'surge' during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Research shows child abuse rises during school holidays and in the aftermath of a natural disaster, like a hurricane.

With schools shut and emotions running high, the doctors expect abuse to “surge”, with many cases going unreported.

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Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, previously warned lockdown “has the potential to aggravate pre-existing abusive behaviours”.

“While in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom,” she said.

“Domestic abuse isn't always physical. It's a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual.”

To help prevent abuse among children, the Florida doctors recommended people keep in touch via phone calls, video chats, messages or emails.

The public can also donate to food banks, which help the most vulnerable. Supermarkets often have boxes near the tills where customers can drop off non-perishables.

“Some communities are creating fun ways for children to engage socially without physical contact,” the doctors added in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“Chalk messages on sidewalks and teddy bear sightings in windows provide a way to connect.”

The doctors admitted these are “small gestures”, but they could go a long way in warding off feelings of isolation.

To combat financial stress as a trigger of abuse, they urged people to take advantage of the mortgage holidays and other incentives being offered by the government.

Finally, the medics have stressed any child needing help – or person suspecting abuse – should report it.

In the UK, young victims can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, Childline on 0800 1111 or Refuge on 0808 2000 247.

“For those already living with domestic abuse these restrictions will have left them fearful of being even further isolated and left at home with their abuser,” deputy chief constable Louisa Rolfe previously said.

“They may feel like there is nowhere to go for help and are now unable to meet the family and friends who act as a support network.

“It’s really important people know there is still support and help available.”

She added victims must call 999 in an emergency and press 55 if it is not safe for them to speak.

The government’s website has information on how to report suspected child abuse.

“By working together to look out for children, we may be able to help prevent cases of child abuse and neglect,” wrote the doctors.

The NCA has launched a #OnlineSafetyAtHome campaign that allows youngsters and their parents or carers to download activity packs that help keep children safe online.

A boy wears a mask in Bangkok. (Getty Images)
A boy wears a mask in Bangkok. (Getty Images)

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The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.

Others trigger everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Since the coronavirus outbreak was identified, more than 2.7 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Of these cases, over 751,500 are known to have “recovered”.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 192,000.

The coronavirus mainly spreads face to face via infected droplets expelled in a cough or sneeze.

There is also evidence it may be transmitted in faeces and survive on surfaces.

Symptoms include fever, cough and slight breathlessness.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are given “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.

Officials urge people to ward off the coronavirus by washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing.

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