The child sexual abuse allegations brought against Jerry Sandusky, along with the deaths of Jaques Twinn and Darisabel Baez, have lit a match on community conversation surrounding child abuse.
People are rightfully concerned and wonder how we can prevent abuse.
There's no easy answer. Ultimately, the prevention and reporting of child abuse/neglect is a responsibility that starts with parents and caregivers but extends to our entire community.
In 2011, York County ranked disproportionately high -- third statewide -- in the number of suspected child abuse reports, behind only Philadelphia and Allegheny counties. Our agency investigated 1,146 reports of child abuse/neglect that allegedly caused mental or physical harm to a child. Approximately 125 were substantiated.
In response to this growing concern, our agency has ramped up efforts to educate the community on the signs of child abuse, mandated reporting requirements and the services available to help families.
Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to report abuse or help us substantiate claims. In part, we suspect that's due to a misperception of the child welfare system. People mistakenly believe our agency is in business to take children from their families.
To the contrary, it is our philosophy to keep children with their family if it's safe. In cases where the parents are trying to properly care for the child, we work with them to improve their care and ensure the child has a safe environment. The child never leaves the home. That's the majority of the cases we take on.
Of course, if there's abuse or neglect that presents an immediate threat to the child, we have a moral and professional obligation to take immediate action.
If a child is removed from a home, our goal is to keep them with people they know instead of placing them in foster care or other places. Often, the child can live with other family members or even close adult friends who can provide an appropriate environment for the child until he/she can return home.
As a result of this philosophy, the number of children in placement has decreased by 40 percent over the past five years. The children remain in stable, safe and comfortable environments, while taxpayers benefit because these settings cost significantly less than a placement in foster care or an institution, such as a group home or shelter.
At Children, Youth and Families, we have a dedicated and caring staff in the field every day engaging children and their families to help meet their needs. But we cannot operate alone. We depend on caring citizens and mandated reporters, such as physicians and day care workers, to report child abuse/neglect to ChildLine or our agency.
It's the only way we're going to address this problem and prevent another child in our community from dying. Too often in fatalities, the abuse or neglect started long before the fatal incident but was never reported.
April, Child Abuse Prevent Awareness Month, is a good time to learn the warning signs of abuse or neglect. The first step is recognizing the risk factors. Although abuse or neglect can occur in any family, the chances are higher when caregivers or parents:
---seem to be having economic, housing or personal problems.
---are isolated from their family or community.
---have difficulty controlling anger or stress.
---are dealing with physical or mental health issues.
---appear uninterested in the care, nourishment or safety of their children.
The behavior of children may signal abuse or neglect long before any change in physical appearance. Some of the signs include:
---aggression toward adults or other children.
---inability to stay awake or to concentrate for extended periods.
---sudden, dramatic changes in personality or activities.
---unnatural interest in sex.
---frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries.
If you have any concerns about a child, please call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 or Children, Youth and Families at 717-846-8496. If you don't, who will?
-- CarrieAnn Frolio is the assistant director of York County's Office of Children, Youth, & Families.