Your Story: Sunflower House responds to COVID-19


While we all know that our community is dealing with many repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic — astronomical unemployment rates, families struggling to make ends meet, higher grocery prices, and inability to find basic cleaning supplies in our local grocery stores, perhaps the repercussion that hit all of us with a vengeance is the stay-at-home order that was instilled by our local authorities in mid-March and then the slow coming out that began in May. 

Something that most people don’t think about, however, is the effect that COVID-19 and quarantine would have on child abuse. This is something that children’s advocacy centers (CACs), like Sunflower House, understand all too well.    

The Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) has reported a significant decrease in child abuse reports since COVID-19 hit.  That doesn’t make sense, does it? Wouldn’t cases of abuse go up when parents are struggling and living under pressure? Wouldn’t cases of abuse go up when children are forced to stay in their homes with abusers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? The answer to both of these questions is “Yes.” Abuse is likely happening and happening more often to children. 

While the referrals have dropped, this doesn’t mean that Sunflower House has lessened its commitment to protecting children who are suffering.

But, the sad part is that these children have been suffering without anyone to help them by reporting the abuse.

Two factors affect the reporting of child abuse: where the abuse happens, and where the abuse is disclosed or discovered. During the time of school closings and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children were isolated. While necessary to keep children and families safe from the deadly pandemic, it was a perfect storm for child abuse to go unreported. 

Referrals come to Sunflower House from child protective services or law enforcement and these referrals dropped off when lockdown orders went into effect. The reality is that kids in isolation had little or no contact with teachers and others who might spot abuse. 

While the referrals have dropped, this doesn’t mean that Sunflower House has lessened its commitment to protecting children who are suffering. 

As a first responder, Sunflower House has been open throughout the shut-down to meet the needs of the families and law enforcement partners when abuse reports come in and are investigated. However, to help maintain safety, only two appointments are taken per day to ensure appointments are not overlapping and to allow for disinfecting between families.

During the strictest of lockdown orders, only three staff were in the building on a daily basis, thereby reducing the chance of exposure to the virus. Our forensic interviewers and family advocates met and continue to meet one-on-one with the children and their caregivers, but these meetings are done with social distancing, face masks or shields, and great care is taken to keep the rooms sanitized.  

Normally, Sunflower House sees over 500 children each year that have been victimized by abuse in Johnson or Wyandotte counties. While the referrals for our forensic interviewing and family advocacy have dropped in the past two months, we are bracing ourselves for a significant uptick in reports with the reopening of schools, medical and mental health offices, and the increase in other adult interactions as stay-at-home orders are lifting.  

Editor’s note: This post is part of a blog series that shares the impact of the pandemic on our grantees and community partners. If you would like to share your story, please find out more here.

Read how these community partners have responded to the pandemic: