WITF: How can we keep kids safe from danger online and at home?

There were 4,992 substantiated reports of child abuse and 60 deaths resulting from abuse in Pennsylvania during 2022. Child abuse in Pennsylvania is defined as when an individual acts or fails to prevent something that causes harm or a high likelihood of harm to a child under the age of 18. This harm can take many forms, such as bodily injury, serious mental injury, or sexual abuse or exploitation.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance provides education, support, and training programs to make Pennsylvania safe for children.

Angela Liddle, the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance was on The Spark Wednesday and was asked for reasons there are so many cases of child abuse and neglect,”People are struggling with substance use disorder, food insecurity. They’re struggling to make ends meet with still an economy that’s not quite where we’d like it to be. There’s inadequate child care. So we have a lot of folks that aren’t providing the supervision of their kids that are needed, and our kids are just needing a whole lot sometimes that they’re not getting.”

Liddle was asked about trends they’re seeing,”One of the trends that we’re seeing, not fatality related, but near fatality. So we’ve had our numbers increase around the near fatality cases. And what that basically means is that had there not been intervention, we have a medical physician that has certified, the child would have died. So in all likelihood, it could have been a mandated reporter. It could have been a concerned community member who alerted the system that children, that the child was in danger and then got the necessary intervention. But those numbers are increasing, and about 80% of all of the near fatalities are because of a lack of parental supervision. So we have kids who are ingesting cleaning material or over-the-counter meds or prescription meds, drowning in swimming pools, getting into unsecured firearms, some very, very serious things.”

Liddle said sometimes parents need help and PFSA offers parental training programs as well. But what if someone suspects a child is being abused or neglected,”Anyone can report suspected child abuse. Community members can do so anonymously. They do not have to give their name or contact information. Mandated reporters, the professionals or volunteers who work with kids, bus drivers, teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, athletic coaches those folks are required by law, and you don’t have to be certain. You have to have a reasonable suspicion. That thing in your gut that says this child is not safe. And so what you do then is you pick up the phone and you dial Childline, which is the central registry. It’s the hotline for reporting abuse. And that number is 1-800-932-0313.”

Digital technology, especially social media, has become an area that can put children in danger. Peer-to-peer online bullying is commonplace, but so are kids going on websites that isn’t age appropriate for them. Children can be put in physical danger when adults reach out to kids online and sometimes even make arrangements to meet them, often to exploit them sexually.

PFSA has initiated a Family Digital Wellness program. Liddle talked about keeping children safe online,”We have to build into our family culture strong assessments about what each kid needs and based on their age, development around social media and the digital world. Our own kind of family norms and rules. How many times do you go out to a restaurant and if there’s a mom and dad and a two kids, you see all four of them sitting there with their smartphones, they’re not even talking to each other? And that comes from parents modeling the behavior and allowing it. So your family digital plan might be we have strong parental controls for these kids. We have, time limits by when they can be on their iPad. And maybe it’s only on the weekends or very limited through the week. We have a rule that we don’t, none of us, take to the table when we’re going to share a meal our phones. And then there’s discussion about the whys. And you talk about how are we like so much to hear about your day. Tell us one thing you learned today, or what was your favorite part of the day? And you begin to talk to kids too, about at a young age about who they may encounter online. Not if, but who they may and what the response might be. What is a good response? And then you reinforce that and what you reinforce with. And this is some good old Fred Rogers talk here. There isn’t anything you can’t talk to me about. I’m always gonna love you no matter what. You’re wonderful just the way you are. Mom or mom and dad or just dad want to keep you as safe as we possibly can. So it’s a different day. We don’t have a choice.”

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call CHILDLINE at 1-800-932-0313.

From WITF, April 10, 2024

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