Front Porch Program trains concerned participants to identify child abuse

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch

Present-day neighborhoods don't have the same vibe as neighborhoods of the past. That was the general sentiment shared by Front Porch Project attendees Wednesday, Aug. 23. 

The project began in York County in April 2011. Since its inception, more than 1,500 people have been trained statewide to spot signs of child abuse  and to learn how to engage people during uncomfortable situations. 

Get involved: There were 1,994 reports of child abuse recorded in York County last year, according to Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance data. Of those, 204 were substantiated. 

According to Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance Program Director Beth Bitler, after participation in a free, six-hour course, the percentage of people who say they will get involved either a lot of the time or all the time if they suspect child abuse increases from 32 percent to more than 80 percent. 

Getting involved does not mean confrontation, Bitler said. It can  mean being supportive, she explained. 

Beth Bitler, director of programs at PAFSA, leads community members in a free program at the United Way called the Front Porch Project to Protect Kids from Abuse, Wednesday, August 23, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

"Just be honest about what you would do," Bitler said. 

Generational changes: When talking about why children are often no longer seen in the streets, thoughts ranged from technology's popularity to having two parents who are working who won't allow their children outside while they are at work. 

"It's not a lack of trust for our own kids, but it's a lack of trust of the world around them," 39-year-old James Kirk said. The Manchester Township resident and his wife needed mandated reporter training for their foster-care licenses. 

Kirk added he thinks the program is worthy for anyone who is a child advocate. 

"We don't feel that, that feel, of everyone working together all the time," Kirk said. "I think participating in events like this brings out a sense of community." 

More:Faces of child abuse in York County

More:EDITORIAL: We can prevent child abuse in York

More:Child abuse reports continue rising in York County

Part of the interactive  training was to answer the question 'Would I help?' There were several other interactive moments. 

Five possible child-abuse scenarios were presented to each of the 17 people who attended. They were answered by placing a green, yes; yellow, maybe; or red, no, sticker on a sheet of paper. 

Brenda Brady, left, York City Police community resources administrative assistant, and long-time community activist Jerri Jones draw pictures of their earliest memories of their childhood neighborhood while attending a free program at the United Way called the Front Porch Project to Protect Kids from Abuse, Wednesday, August 23, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Points of view differed, but generally, most agreed they would involve themselves to help a child. 

"Today's kids are pushed into adulthood quickly," said Maggie Miller, of Lighthouse Youth at St. Matthew Lutheran Church. 

According to Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance research, of 1,000 people surveyed in 2013, only 17 percent felt that child abuse is a serious problem; 14 percent felt it was not a problem; and 33 percent felt they had known a child who was being abused. And 32 percent said they actually reported the suspected child abuse.