April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and now, more than ever, our children need the support of those around them to be aware of what the warning signs of abuse and neglect are. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a sudden, sharp, and frightening decrease in the number of suspected child abuse reports made to child protective services.
From July 2020 through December 2020, there was a 19 percent decrease in the number of suspected child abuse reports made, and a nearly 12 percent decrease in the number reports made requiring the need for some type of intervention to prevent harm. The decline in the number of reports is misleading. To the untrained eye, it may appear that there are less incidents of abuse taking place. That could not be further than the truth.
Most children are spending an unprecedented amount of time at home with family members and caregivers, and unfortunately, for some, this environment is not safe. Children, like many adults, have remained socially isolated throughout the duration of the pandemic. They have not been around mandated reporters, like teachers, bus drivers, and daycare workers, as frequently as they once were. Mandated reporters continue to be the number one source of suspected child abuse and neglect reports.
Separate the pandemic, the data according to the latest Child Protective Services Report is startling. In 2019, there were 4,865 substantiated cases of abuse, 51 fatalities, and 93 near fatalities. These statistics show that our society still has a lot of work to do in advocating for those that are most vulnerable—our children. You have probably heard the old adage that a society will be judged by how its treats its weakest members.
At Pa Family Support Alliance our sole mission is to prevent the abuse and neglect of children. We know that positive parenting is the best first step toward prevention and so we work with community-based agencies across the commonwealth and provide parenting programs that help moms and dads be the best parents possible.
Sadly, some parents will never provide a safe environment for their children. Pa Family Support Alliance helps prepare the safety net of mandated reports learn how to best recognize and report child abuse. We know it cannot stop there; we must have community members involved in the hard work of protecting children. That is why we have planted flags along the grounds of the Capitol Complex.
There are nearly 5,000 blue and flag plants—each representing a child in Pennsylvania who was abused or died as a result of that abuse. We orchestrate this flag planting each year with the hope that it will serve as a symbolic reminder to our lawmakers, Harrisburg residents, and Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth that more must be done. One case of abuse or neglect is far too much.
Because we continue to be physically separated due to the pandemic, we asked several government and elected officials to join in our awareness efforts. Throughout the month of April, we will debut special video messages from Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, Secretary of Education Noe Ortega, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Children, Youth, and Families Jonathan Rubin, Senators Judy Ward and Maria Collett, and Representatives Sheryl Delozier and Pamela DeLissio. Without hesitation, they joined in our efforts to call attention to this issue.
Regardless of your position, we each have an invaluable role to play in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children. There are warning signs of abuse and neglect that everyone should pay attention to:
- Unexplained bruises, welts, bite marks, burns;
- Afraid to go home or participate in activities they once enjoyed;
- Persistent hunger, poor hygiene, or inappropriate clothing for the weather and season;
- Does not want to talk about what is happening at home;
- Withdrawal or aggressive behaviors;
- Consistent lack of supervision;
- Sexual knowledge beyond what is natural for a child;
To read a comprehensive list of what the indicators and warning signs of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are visit our website. If you do suspect abuse or neglect, please call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. Reports can be made by anyone and can be done anonymously.
Our children have been impacted by the pandemic in ways we will probably be discovering for years to come. They have endured the challenges and difficulties right alongside adults, but we must remain committed to them and focused on their safety. They are depending on all of us to collectively raise our voices and act.
Angela M. Liddle is President and CEO of the Pa Family Support Alliance, an organization that works to prevent child abuse and protects children from harm by helping parents learn positive parenting techniques.
From Penn Live, April 13, 2021