Every April, PFSA observes and promotes National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are committed to creating an environment where Pennsylvania’s children can live and thrive free from abuse and neglect. One of our priorities is to call attention to the problem of child abuse and how to prevent it because – if we know better, we can do better. And knowing how to do better starts with education and information.
For the week of April 1-7, the Capitol was lit up in blue — the official color of Natural Child Abuse Prevention Month — as were the Walnut and Market Street bridges in downtown Harrisburg.
On April 4, with the state Capitol dome overlooking us and the sun shining, we gathered with volunteers, local and state lawmakers and officials, and child advocates for our annual blue flag planting and Blue Ribbon Champions for Safe Kids award ceremony. We planted 5,036 blue flags — each representing one substantiated case of child abuse in 2021 — and 58 black flags to signify every child who died due to abuse in that year.
“It has been four years since we last had our awards ceremony in person, and it was great to see everyone gathered back together for this important event,” said Angela Liddle, PFSA president and CEO. “Many of us don’t want to linger on hard-to-discuss topics, but those flags, those children, were and are our why. It’s imperative that we do everything we can to prevent children across Pennsylvania from being victimized or abused.”
Joining us at the flag planting and awards ceremony were Val Arkoosh, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services; Rep. Justin Fleming; Rep. Sheryl Delozier; Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick; Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo; Cumberland County District Attorney Sean McCormack; Alysa Bainbridge, Miss Pennsylvania 2022; Selina Horst, Pennsylvania Dairy Princess; the Susquehanna Twp. High School Choir; and characters from Hershey, among many others.
“I know how critical it is for every community to have robust, high-quality prevention programs,” Secretary Arkoosh said. “Our programs need to be more than accessible: they need to be welcoming to every parent, so they receive the parenting education, support, and resources they need to provide a healthy and safe environment for children.”
Four Pennsylvanians were honored as Blue Ribbon Champions for Safe Kids during a ceremony emceed by WITF’s Scott Lamar. This recognition and award is given to individuals due to their exceptional contributions to preventing child abuse and neglect throughout Pennsylvania. The 2023 Blue Ribbon Champions for Safe Kids winners were:
Jessica Crouse, Community Educator, Over the Rainbow Children’s Advocacy Center, Franklin County
Crouse provides training in schools and works with students to ensure they understand what types of behaviors are appropriate between them and adults. She also teaches them to identify safe adults with whom they can confide in should they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. At one school where Crouse implemented an educational program, an exam proved that the students had a 45 percent increase in their knowledge about abuse behaviors and how to report it if they ever felt uncomfortable with any adults. Additionally, she navigated many difficulties during the pandemic and quickly pivoted to providing her training virtually. Over the Rainbow Children’s Advocacy Center anticipates that she will facilitate the abuse prevention training program to more than 10,000 children in 2023.
Michelle McDyre, Director of Prevention and Outreach, Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, Montgomery County
McDyre launched the organization’s prevention education department and its “ROAR” program. ROAR is a child-based education program that teaches children ages 4 through 8 about bodily safety and empowers them to speak out if they ever feel they are in an inappropriate situation. Her work was vitally important during the pandemic. When schools switched to virtual learning and children were isolated from mandated reporters like teachers, coaches, and counselors, McDyre ensured that the ROAR program would still be taught virtually.
Christina Roland, Director of Intake Services, Cumberland County Children and Youth Services, Cumberland County
Since 1990, Roland has worked for the county in this department in various roles, including as a caseworker, intake screener, and supervisor. During her 32-year career, she would assess families and children who are at risk for abuse and neglect and ensure they receive the appropriate supportive services. Throughout her tenure, Roland has been an integral part of the agency’s use of multi-disciplinary teams, child fatality and near fatality reviews, and the implementation of new practices regarding child victims of human trafficking.
Charles Streightiff, Chief of Police, Huntingdon Borough Police Department, Huntingdon County
Chief Streightiff recently established a Crisis Intervention Co-Responder Initiative. A responder assists the department will mental health crisis cases. Chief Steightiff has ensured that this responder can be utilized by other borough agencies. Additionally, Chief Steightiff actively participates in monthly meetings with the Huntingdon County Children’s Services agency and local child advocacy centers. He has been trained in forensic interviewing, unexplained child death investigations, fatality, and near-fatality review training, as well as the MDT training approach. MDT training is a victim-centered approach to investigations that ensures additional resources and teams within the community are in coordination with each other.
While the month of April helps us spark a conversation around preventing child abuse, the work to keep children safe from abuse and neglect requires each of us to remain vigilant every day. There is much work to be done and we must continue to do it together. We strive to empower every Pennsylvanian to take an active role in preventing abuse and strengthening our communities and families through learning about child abuse prevention. If you suspect that a child in your life is being abused or neglected, please report it. You can remain anonymous. To make a confidential report, call ChildLine, Pennsylvania’s 24/7 reporting hotline at 800-932-0313. For more information on recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect, click here.