700,000 children in the U.S. suffer from some type of abuse or neglect every year. In 2017, North Dakota had close to 4,000 referrals, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
Abuse doesn’t stop during the holiday season. In fact, it often increases.
“I think the public does know that there are individuals who it isn’t a happy time of the year. It reminds them of their poverty, it reminds them of their problems at home,” shared Youthworks Executive Director Melanie Heitkamp.
For those families who feel like they won’t be able to buy gifts to put under the tree, the stress goes up.
“Way back when I first started out as a social worker in the early 80s, that was our really busiest time. Abuse and neglect have a direct correlation to stressors in the home, and to poverty and addiction. And when you think about the holidays, just people who do have resources, what they struggle with, you compound that by many times when you don’t have the resources and you feel like you’re failing,” Heitkamp explained.
The North Dakota Department of Human Services told us their statewide data from the past five years shows no spikes in the number of suspected child abuse or neglect reports received for November and December.
But whether or not it’s actually reported, Heitkamp said there is definitely a spike.
She added, “Kids, especially in the midwest, they’re not going to talk about it. They’re not going to tell somebody that, ‘I’m hungry’. They’ll just hide it, or they’ll figure out how to get by.”
In fact, at the Youthworks short-term shelter, they just took in four kids this week.
“Our utilization has increased significantly in the last year. We’ve had over 200 placements this year alone in Bismarck,” said Emily Yanish, Youthworks Program Manager that oversees the shelter.
Yanish said in an average year they shelter about 150 kids in this five-bedroom facility.
“In a typical year, approximately 30 percent of the kids we serve have experienced abuse or neglect,” Yanish added.
We asked her if 30 percent is a high number.
Yanish answered, “It was higher than I was expecting.”
For those 60 out of 200 kids, the holidays can actually be the toughest time of the year.
“They don’t trust, you know, that people will really be there for them. They’re afraid to hope and they’re afraid to trust,” Heitkamp shared.
Youthworks had a Thanksgiving dinner for those in the shelter, and they will have a Christmas meal as well.
If you want to help out, Yanish said they are always accepting donations. Food, paper products and other everyday household products are their priority, but they will also take clothing or monetary donations.
Donations can be dropped off at, or mailed to, the Bismarck office at 217 W. Rosser Avenue.
You can also click here to donate online.