HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — To mark the beginning of Child Abuse Prevention Month, advocates and state officials spoke this morning about the importance of expanding support for children. They say a major component of that support would be creating an Office of the Child Advocate.
Pennsylvania is one of only 12 states that has not yet created an independent office to advocate on behalf of its children. The office has been recommended for the commonwealth by grand juries, government reports and task forces for over 20 years. Advocates hope momentum throughout the month of April will help bolster its creation.
“Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a shared responsibility, and each one of us must play our part to help keep kids safe,” said Valerie Arkoosh, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Dozens of advocates, lawmakers and officials filled the stairs of the Capitol rotunda to raise awareness, while also ensuring the voices of children are heard.
“They want you to hear them, to see them, to believe in them,” said Cathleen Palm with the Center for Children’s Justice.
Youth advocates who’ve experienced foster care or congregate care say the state can do a better job addressing the needs of each child.
“Paperwork and case numbers do not define who I am, do not define who we are,” said Duane Price, a youth advocate.
To better serve children, dozens of states have created an Office of the Child Advocate.
“One thing that’s done within these offices in other states is there’s a direct phone line, a direct email line, a way for youth to get in touch with an advocate that is not working within the system that they are feeling they need to speak out against,” said Commonwealth Child Advocate, Maryann McEvoy.
McEvoy says other states have seen success with similar offices and that it would provide independent support for children who deserve to be heard.
“There are a team of professionals situated regionally throughout Pennsylvania to pick up these phone calls, to hear from children and to know that they can stop in and sit down and talk with them and hear their stories and what’s happening,” said McEvoy.
The bipartisan and bicameral Youth Safety Caucus supports the legislation to establish the Office of the Child Advocate.
“As we kick off National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, moving toward the creation of an independent Office of the Child Advocate is such a critical step for Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver/Greene/Washington). “No one deserves protection and advocacy more than our most vulnerable youth, including children in foster care and the juvenile justice system,” she added.
Republican Senator Michele Brooks (R-Crawford/Lawrence/Mercer) and others recently filed a co-sponsorship memo, to create a permanent Office of the Child Advocate in the Senate. Rep. Christina Sappey (D-Chester) filed a similar memo in the House.
Throughout April, the state Capitol will be lit blue in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
To learn more about child abuse or neglect, you can find it here. To report child abuse, call 1-800-932-0313.