MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A devastating case of a father killing his child and then himself happened a year after a mother is charged with murdering her child with special needs.

These are local instances of a disturbing national trend in violence against children, which health experts attribute to pandemic stress.

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However, there are resources in South Florida to help.

Over the last year, the pandemic has put a serious strain on mental health.

“Problems like anxiety, depression, irritability, distress, really for everyone, has gone on the rise,” says Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami. “There are some metrics that suggest up to 40% to 50% of increases in those types of symptoms.”

She says, unfortunately, children can become the targets of frustration or anger.

“When we are in a parenting context with our child, we don’t get that sort of breathing room to try and step away from it and look at it more objectively and try to let those feelings come down,” says Dr. Ehrenreich-May.

Police say, last week, John Stacey killed his 4-year-old son Greyson Kessler before killing himself.

This week one year ago, Patricia Ripley was accused of drowning her son Alejandro, who had autism.

“It really affected all the families, even if you didn’t know them personally,” says Rabbi Yossi Harlig. “Especially since it happened in our own backyard.”

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Rabbi Harlig is director of Friendship Circle Miami, which pairs teenage volunteers with children on the autism spectrum. Tyne organization provides support for not only the children, but also their parents.

“Although Alejandro wasn’t coming to our particular programs, it happened in our community,” Rabbi Harlig explains. “The community of raising children on the spectrum, everyone feels it’s like their family because everyone identifies with each other.”

There has been an overall increase in child abuse over the last year. According to the CDC, the percentage of emergency room visits related to child abuse and neglect increased from 2.1% in 2019 to 3.2% in 2020.

“I think it’s important for parents or family members or friends to realize that you don’t have to carry this all by yourself,” says Rabbi Harlig. “You have to take advantage of the community and the resources.”

Through places like Friendship Circle and the University of Miami, there is help available.

“We’ve been offering brief telehealth sessions to parents, where they can connect with each other,” says Dr. Ehrenreich-May. “They can also find other people who may be experiencing a little more distress and maybe I’ve had a hard time coping and share their experience with each other.”

Through Project COPE, funded by the Children’s Trust, they are providing free telehealth sessions for parents of children with autism.  To find out more, click here.

UM Families First offers free groups for parents of children under the age of three.

The UM Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program for parents of children under the age of nine with emotional and behavioral problems is also free.

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Other resources include the Parent Club at FIU.

Karli Barnett