The coronavirus pandemic continues to take an emotional and physical toll on our lives, as we cope with fears for our health, financial difficulties, social distancing, stay-at-home orders and in some instances, the illnesses and deaths of friends and loved ones.

Here, the Defender explores three societal challenges confronting countless families – domestic violence, child abuse and mental/emotional strains – and steps we can take to try and overcome them.

Domestic Violence


Law enforcement offices across America are reporting increases in domestic violence as more victims and abusers are confined to their homes during the pandemic.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that domestic calls were up 6% in Houston during March.

Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton said, “We are observing an increase in emergency calls for domestic violence here at home, the media is reporting more hate incidents across the nation, and there is a concern that child abuse is being underreported.”

Emilee Whitehurst, president & CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC), said the stress in their clients’ lives are already extreme, “and they need our help now in ways that we could not have anticipated…”


Get help in Houston – At HAWC, the residential campus housing women and children is open. Face-to-face walk-ins, intakes and individual and group counseling have been moved to virtual appointments. Support by phone is available for safe harbor hotel emergency assistance, 24/7 hotlines, hospital accompaniment, legal advocacy, children’s court services, housing and case management.

Get help in Ft. Bend – At Fort Bend Women’s Center, the shelter is open but with limitations. Resident families are staying within the grounds. No visitors, volunteers or donations are being accepted at the site. A skeleton crew is serving clients on a rotating basis. The Counseling and Children’s Centers are closed, and survivors are being served remotely.

Play it safe – HAWC says identify your partner’s use and level of force so that you can assess the risk of physical danger before it occurs. Identify safe areas of the home where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas. Don’t run to where your children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.

Stay in touch – If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help. If your life is in danger, call the police. Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need help.

Instruct children – Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house. Tell them that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you, nor they, are at fault or are the cause of the violence.


Child Abuse


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and awareness of the issue has been heightened as more families isolate at home due to the pandemic.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline reports a 20% increase in calls compared to the same time last year.

“There is no doubt that the strain and stress on families during the COVID-19 crisis, and any crisis for that matter, puts children at an increased risk of negative outcomes, including that of child abuse and neglect,” said Sophie Phillips, CEO of the Texas Association for the Protection of Children (TexProtects).

“But it’s important to recognize that child abuse and trauma is not a new risk. It has been a longstanding public health crisis and epidemic, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases in Texas alone each year.

There are four common types of abuse: Physical, such as hitting, kicking or shaking; emotional, such as name-calling, shaming, rejection, and threatening; neglect, the failure to meet basic physical and emotional needs; and sexual, such as fondling, penetration and exposing a child to other sexual activities.


Report expected abuse – Texas law says anyone who thinks a child is being abused, neglected, or exploited must report it to the Department of Family and Protective Services. A person who reports abuse in good faith is immune from civil or criminal liability. DFPS keeps the name of the person making the report confidential. You can also contact the police if you suspect abuse.

Be a nurturing parent – Children need to know that they are special and lovedEncourage your child and praise his or her achievements and talents. Never discipline your child when your anger is out of control and learn nonphysical options for discipline. If you feel overwhelmed, take time out; don’t take it out on your child. Listen to your child’s concerns.

Talk to someone. Ask for help if you need it. Tell a friend or relative about what you are experiencing. Check out online resources. Join a support group for parents.

Keep your child safe – Provide a safe and secure environment. Protect your child from sexual abuse. Teach them that body parts are private. Tell them that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts. Teach them how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations. Tell them that body secrets are never okay and to always tell you if someone tries to make them keep such a secret.

Watch what they watch – Monitor your child’s TV/Internet viewing and video games. Beware of violent or adult-only images or programs.


Mental/Emotional Strains


According to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half the people in the United States feel the coronavirus crisis is adversely impacting their mental health. The survey revealed 45% of adults say their mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic, while 19% describe the impact as “major.”

Some are referring to the impact as a nationwide psychological trauma, which is hitting Blacks, Latinos and women hardest.

Psychologist Dr. Carolyn Clansy Miller, owner of Ashar Counseling and Psychological Services, said along with the disproportionate death rates, people of color also face stress related to underlying health conditions, poverty and education.

“We are also affected as frontline service providers, which places us at increased risk. We are impacted by job loss, lockdowns, the stress of homeschooling and lack of childcare, poverty, no access to resources, etc.”

Miller said such conditions increase acute and chronic stress, leading to greater risk for mental health conditions. Lack of access to mental health services adds even more stress.

“Further, the need for mental health services is often looked down upon within many minority groups, which decreases intention to seek help and increases the likelihood of unmet mental health needs,” she said.


Miller offers these options for addressing mental/emotional strains

Seek professional help – Seek help when your emotions are impacting your functioning. During crises, I recommend that we seek help sooner rather than later. Don’t minimize or underestimate your need. These are difficult times and many times the stress levels are much higher than we realize and if not addressed, can kill (e.g. heart attacks, strokes, etc).

Pay attention to stress signs – If you find yourself unable to sleep, eat, engage in pleasurable activities, complete tasks, finish job assignments or even get out of bed or bathe, its time to seek help. Observe your body. Is your neck tight? Do you have headaches or stomach issues?  Tune into your body and learn ways to begin to release the stress and grief physically via breathwork, meditation, stretching or yoga.

Take a holistic approach – I recommend an approach where we continue to seek support from traditional healers in our communities, including pastors, friends, families, neighbors, etc.  Also, engage healthy coping strategies. Exercise, meditate, journal, listen to music, disconnect from media, watch comedy, take a hot bath, and seek professional mental health support as necessary.

Increase/decrease participation in spiritual services – If your spiritual life is a source of strength, comfort and support, don’t neglect to take time for this area in your life. Engage in spiritual or religious activities like prayer, worship and rituals. Stay connected with your spiritual or religious community. If your spiritual practices are a source of pain, give yourself permission to be human and don’t push it. If you’d like, ask others to pray for you.  Reach out to your pastor or other spiritual leaders for support.