As Montana enters its fifth consecutive week of quarantine, many households are feeling the strain of isolation, fear and anxiety. Professionals are warning about increased incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault, while even safe households are experiencing unique stresses related to parenting.
In response to these concerns, Montana Free Press is publishing this episode of the weekly Montana Lowdown podcast focused on resources for victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as parenting tips from childcare experts.
Pandemic Exacerbates Abusive Behavior
Echoing concerns shared in national publications, local professionals are reporting that the quarantine is exacerbating abusive behavior.
“Abusers use isolation as a way to maintain power and control. And when we see increased stresses at home, a lot of times that also can be a contributing factor for violence,” says Jenny Eck, executive director of The Friendship Center, a Helena-based nonprofit that provides resources to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Eck tells Lowdown host John S. Adams that abusers can exploit the pandemic by withholding items like hand sanitizer or masks, preventing victims from seeking medical attention or support from friends and family, and withholding insurance information.
While there is some relief coming to Montana’s victims of domestic violence — the federal CARES Act package includes $45 million in funding for crisis centers — Kelsen Young, executive director of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence warns that “it will probably be another month or two” before the state’s allocation makes its way to program coffers.
Young adds that abuse victims are seeing another novel limit in their ability to find safe harbor, as many hotels that previously opened their doors to victims are now being more strict about filling vacancies. As Young tells Adams, “We are hearing that some hotels are refusing to take people that are [exposed to the virus].” Simultaneously, established shelters are limiting the number of people they take in during the pandemic to minimize the risk of viral transmission.
Both Eck and Young note that there are ways for Montanans to help. Eck suggests, “It’s really important that you stay in touch. Try to help [victims] have access to a safe way of communicating.” And for those Montanans who are able to offer financial support, Young says, “Domestic violence shelters would be a great place” to donate.
Parenting In A Pandemic
Emotionally healthy households are facing their own stresses, with many parents having to balance a dearth of childcare options with professional obligations or new fears about lost wages.
Lowdown producer Alex McKenzie, a new parent to a 7-month-old child, interviewed Wisconsin-based Dr. Laura Froyen, whose work focuses on human development and family studies, and Portland, Oregon-based Tracey Biebel, a licensed clinical social worker and podcaster whose work is focused on “practical parenting and practical living.”
One theme repeated throughout both interviews is that there is no universal approach to parenting under quarantine. While some parents are able to take advantage of the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which offers expanded family or paid medical leave for certain situations, many other parents are left to balance expert advice on social distancing measures with the realities of their childcare needs.
Asked about the prudence of designating a single person, like a grandparent or other relative, to provide care for a young child during the pandemic, Froyen suggested making an “exclusivity arrangement” in which the childcare provider will not be taking care of any other children, and will otherwise refrain from interaction with the outside world. “You are going to socially isolate, together,” Froyen says.
For older children, Biebel suggests a more conservative approach. While she acknowledges that different scenarios may work better for individual families, she cautions that allowing a teenager to have exclusive social interactions with a friend may create a slippery slope. “If you allow one friend, then they’re like, ‘Well, what about the other friend?” She says the issues with teenagers is rooted in a lack of critical thinking skills: “The brain development just isn’t there yet,” she says
Froyen and Biebel also weigh in on topics including screen time, the importance of structure during quarantine, and how to communicate about the pandemic to small children without triggering anxiety.
Another shared view between Froyen and Biebel involves lowered parental expectations during the pandemic. Froyen suggests that parents offer themselves “lots of grace and compassion, room to make mistakes, and to repair them.” Biebel advises parents to “just sit in it and let it pass, because it will.”
Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
The Friendship Center