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Article by  Sheldon Spackman, rdnewsNOW: Read Here

Officials with cybertip.ca are noting an 81 per cent increase since April in the number of reports from youth who have been sexually exploited, and reports of people trying to sexually abuse children.The disturbing increase comes as children are spending more time online since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.Mark Jones, CEO for the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre (CACAC), says the numbers do not come as a surprise.

“This is why as a province we launched a provincial campaign ‘Kids Can’t Wait,’ pushing the importance of staying connected to the children in your life, as a parent, friend, teacher, guardian and a member of the community. We all have a duty to report, so we encourage those to learn what the signs of abuse are and to report if you have any suspicion.”

The CACAC actually saw its caseload drop significantly early on the pandemic, likely, Jones says, because kids weren’t afforded their normal outlets available to them.

Jones anticipates the numbers to grow even more this fall when kids are back in school.

“Often this is where they feel most comfortable to share their stories,” adds Jones. “Or teachers, coaches, and caretakers are able to recognize calls and report.”

Jones recommends that parents have constant and open conversations with their kids to help keep them safe online, and not just during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our provincial voice message this past month and a half has been about online safety. Right now, we are all online so much more than usual, and with that comes some risk. Online child luring is very prevalent in our province and has spiked since COVID-19 began.”

Jones suggests that open conversations with your children can consist of what online safety means, ensuring there is transparency with use, and making sure they know they should only be talking to those who they know.

“Have these conversations – and then have them again. It is the consistency; the connection, that is going to help prevent.

“Our one RCMP member, Holly Porterfield said it best, “We need connection, our children need connection. And if they’re not finding it in a healthy way, they’re going to connect where it is not so healthy.”

Jones reminds the community that the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre is there for all children and families impacted by abuse, providing a safe place where a child can share their story.

“It is a child-friendly space that offers forensic interviews, instead of having to go down to the RCMP station, or repeating it many times,” he explains. “We also offer support during the entire process – advocates to assist the families and provide resources, court preparation where children and youth can understand what their day in court may look like by watching videos showing Red Deer’s courthouse. We also offer mental health therapy for after the court process has taken place.”

Jones thanks everyone who has continued to support the CACAC during this difficult time.

“We’re in this together and we are here for you,” concludes Jones. “We are only one call, one email, one online message away. So please reach out if you need us, we will be here when you are ready.”

If you need to make a report, you can reach out to the following:

RCMP Complaint Line: 403-343-5575

Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-5437 (KIDS)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or Text CONNECT to 686868

Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-8477

Online Exploitation: cybertip.ca

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