Amberly’s Place, a family advocacy center, has made changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of these changes are ones I never expected this agency to ever have adapted into our program,” Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly’s Place, said in an email to supporters. “With the governor’s executive order, it was felt this change was important to support the shelter-in-place order.”

The center normally dispatches a crisis team to assist abuse victims in Yuma County and part of Imperial County. But due to the pandemic, the agency is not providing on-scene crisis response to victims of abuse. Instead, law enforcement is taking victims to the center or providing the center with victims’ contact information.

Victims are still able to receive trauma services and “all the things we normally do for them,” such as assistance with orders of protection, safety planning, food boxes, forensic interviews, medical exams, court advocacy and referral services, Umphress noted.

Adult victims may still go to the center to self-report a crime. However, the center asks that they go without family or friends to reduce the number of people in the center.

If a child is taken in to report physical or sexual abuse, only one parent will be allowed in with the child. The center also asks that other children not be taken to the center to reduce unnecessary exposure.

The center provides cloth masks for the victims who go to the center for their protection and the protection of the team. “However, we understand that young children can be frightened by a mask and they will not be required to wear one to receive services. We will use other safety precautions with them. This is a trying time for everyone and we don’t want to add to the fear and stress of a child,” Umphress said.

Orders of protection can now be completed and filed online. Crisis advocates are available to assist a victim with this either by phone or in person at the center. Advocates are still making court appearances for victims, but the courts too have changed the way they conduct hearings during the pandemic.

Umphress noted that research has shown that “in times of stress and uncertainty, child abuse increases, as does the severity of it. Our children are at home, many trapped with the person they fear the most. The outlet of going to school and seeing their teacher and friends who know them has also changed.”

She believes this “quiet” will be followed by a “storm” in Yuma, as other parts of Arizona communities are already seeing. Nationwide, family advocacy centers are reporting escalated violence in the cases they are seeing, requiring more severe medical intervention for victims. 

“Please pay attention to the children in your neighborhoods. If you are a teacher, you likely already have insight and/or more intimate knowledge of your students and who is at risk,” Umphress said. “Please check on them and see if they disclose anything to you. Isolation makes people feel trapped and hopeless, especially children.”

As for aunts, uncles and grandparents, Umphress also encourages them to regularly check on the children in their life. April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and she extends the same invitation to everyone.

“Please be on the lookout for our community’s children,” Umphress said. “You can call any law enforcement agency for a wellness check on a child if you feel they are in danger … When people look the other way, for whatever reason, abuse happens.”

The governor’s stay-at-home order occurred in mid-March, and Umphress believes this is reflected in the March numbers for Amberly’s Place. “We only saw a 3% increase from last year in calls for help, and we know these numbers are not really reflective of what is happening,” she said.

Still, Umphress noted, half of the 244 victims helped by the center were children. The center saw a decrease in child sexual abuse and domestic violence reports, two crimes that are centered around power and control.

“These crimes increase when abusers feel they are losing control of their world. We all feel a little of this loss of control with the pandemic and economy today,” Umphress said. “Thankfully, not all of us react in a hurtful, destructive way. We must all be aware of those who are and report it.

“Some of us now panic when we see a child out with a parent at the store. What we don’t understand is that this could be for the child’s own safety. Viruses are not the only thing that can kill our children today,” she added.

Amberly’s Place is still providing 24/7 services, and members of the public with questions or concerns may call 928-373-9691 or the hotline: 928-373-0849.

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