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Each year in Pennsylvania, the equivalent of a grade school classroom of children die of child abuse – in 2014, 30 children died at the hands of adults.

It’s a difficult subject to discuss but we are talking about it more today than ever. That’s due in part to very public cases such as those involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of serial child molestation in 2012, and the Catholic Church, which has systematically protected abusive priests for decades.

Please let that sink in for a moment. It’s a staggering number and one that needs our attention. Providing a safety net for children must become the social, moral and political imperative of each and every one of us.

It’s also hard to know what to do to help. Many people prefer not to get involved, but often small contributions can have direct and lasting effects.

That’s why we’re fortunate resources such as The Lehman Center and Family Support Alliance exist here in Pennsylvania.

The Lehman Center in York provides a 24-hour crisis nursery for children from newborn to 6-years-old, among other vital support services. It is a part of the Children’s Aid Alliance of the Southern Pennsylvania District Church of the Brethren. Find it online at www.Cassd.org.

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance offers training and support to help communities and families understand the origins of child abuse — and attempt to recognize the causes, such as addiction, mental illness, and lack of parenting education and coping skills.

Whatever the cause, it is up to all of us to advocate for children, who are often among our most vulnerable citizens. We can do that by educating ourselves on the systemic shortcomings that cause children to fall through the cracks — be it because of lack of resources or lack of oversight.

We can also lend a hand by learning how to identify warning signs of child abuse and by committing to saying something if we see something.

According to the Family Support Alliance, these are some of the startling statewide child abuse statistics:

  • Physical injuries accounted for 26 percent of the total number of injuries and ranged from bruises, cuts, and abrasions to broken bones, skull fractures and scaldings.
  • The majority of injuries, 64 percent, were sexual in nature, ranging from sexual assault to rape and incest.
  • Parents — or adults in a parental relationship with the child — accounted for 61 percent of those perpetuating child abuse in Pennsylvania. Eleven percent had been named in previous substantiated child abuse reports.
  • Sixty-five percent of the substantiated victims were girls. Thirty-three percent were boys.
  • Seventy-nine percent of sexual abuse reports, the most prevalent type of abuse, involved girls. This has been a consistent trend in Pennsylvania.
  • The number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect is increasing. About 10 of every 1,000 Pennsylvania children were reported as victims of suspected abuse in 2014, while about one of every 1,000 Pennsylvania children was substantiated as a victim of abuse.
  • According to the Family Support Alliance, that means 29,273 cases of suspected child and student abuse were reported in Pennsylvania in 2014, an increase of 2,329 reports since 2013. Of these, 3,340 cases, or 11 percent, were substantiated. Sexual abuse was involved in 53 percent of the substantiated cases.

These are staggering statistics that require swift response from legislators, health and welfare professionals and the rest of us — neighbors and friends who can keep a watchful eye out for abuse.

There’s a plethora of training and support information on the Family Support website, www.pa-fsa.org. This information can help us all be more informed and more involved.

We urge you to log on and do some research. Of particular import is the training for mandated reporters, those professionals such as teachers who spend a significant amount of time with children and are required by law to report suspected child abuse.

We can all help protect and support children — and stressed parents — in ways great and small, by being a supportive neighbor or a vigilant advocate and by availing ourselves of organizations such as the Family Support Alliance and its abundance of information and support services.

Those who are informed and trained are more likely to feel confident reporting child abuse.

It’s not easy to talk and learn about, which makes child abuse that much more difficult to combat.

But losing the equivalent of a classroom full of children each year is something we cannot — and must not — abide.

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