Taking Stock

April 9, 2012

By Angela Liddle

Printed in the Patriot-News (Harrisburg) on Sunday 4/8/12:

For those of us who live and work daily in the field of preventing child abuse and protecting Pennsylvania’s children, the last year has been like no other.

What made it different, exceptionally so, was the child sex abuse scandal that erupted around former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The scope and the details of the allegations were so dramatically horrifying that it became not just a statewide news story, but a national news story, perhaps even global.
The only good aspect of what happened is that everyone is now suddenly aware of, and hopefully concerned about, the problem of child abuse. Now, as we observe Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we should think about where we go from here. It is important to keep the focus where it belongs: what each of us can do to make sure that nothing like this happens in our neighborhood and in our town. Yes, now we’re aware, but that’s not enough. We have to understand what we can do and be committed to doing it.


Reporting child abuse is everyone’s job. Let me re-emphasize: everyone’s job. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a godparent, a friend, a neighbor or just a concerned citizen, you have a moral duty, if not a legal one, to make a report to the authorities if you suspect child abuse is occurring. Call ChildLine toll free at 800-932-0313 at any hour. You don’t have to be 100 percent sure. You need not investigate; that’s what Children and Youth Services is for. If you suspect, you should act. Better to be wrong than to regret a tragedy that befell a child because of inaction.

Our nonprofit, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, is working on several fronts.
We are training professionals such as teachers, doctors, police officers and others how to spot child abuse and how to make sure it’s properly reported. We’ve trained about 8,000 people in the last year. Our training classes are filled to the maximum allowed by our funding. We are pushing hard to get legislation through Harrisburg that would require teachers to undergo regular training, and the prospects look good. Teachers and other school personnel have more frequent contact with children than just about anybody outside of families.

The great majority of child abuse reports made by mandated reporters — those with a legal duty to report — come from schools, yet only an estimated 15 percent of our schools have training.

We are partnering with communities statewide in an initiative called the Front Porch Project that brings together people from all walks of life and educates them about child abuse and provides the encouragement for them to act when needed.

It’s education linked with empowerment. Our goal is to revive the feeling of community concern we used to have when neighbors sat on their front porches and kept a watchful eye on everybody’s kids, not just their own.

The still-unfolding scandal surrounding the Sandusky case is riveting and important, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s only one case among tens of thousands occurring in Pennsylvania.

Some 24,615 cases of suspected abuse were reported in Pennsylvania in 2010. These occurred in all 67 counties of Pennsylvania: urban, suburban and rural. Thirty-three children died as a result of abuse in 2010 and 4,810 injuries were reported.

Not all of these were written about in the newspapers or shown on TV; in fact, probably few were. But all of them deserve our concern and our action.