By Kara Jeffers
Driving around town, you may have spotted blue pinwheels spinning in the spring wind. They are a national symbol for child abuse prevention month, which offers organizations a chance to raise awareness on the topic every April.
“Child abuse is a big phrase. and a lot of people just think about physical abuse,” said Amy Blackman, Co-Assistant Director at Erie’s Crime Victim Center. “Its important to recognize it can be a lot of different types of abuse. There might be emotional abuse in there, there may be sexual abuse, there may be neglect that’s happening.”
In 2021, Pennsylvania had over 38,000 reports of suspected child abuse. 13.2% of those reports were substantiated, which indicates there was court action or evidence of abuse.
Child abuse requires a wide variety of responses. In some cases, a family may not be aware they are hurting or neglecting their child, and need connection to resources. In others, an adult in a child’s life may be sexually abusing them and court action is taken.
“The most important aspect of child abuse is prevention,” said Danielle Szklenski, Vice President of Programs at Family Services of Northwest Pennsylvania.
Prevention starts with education.
“If people can get the resources they need before children are harmed, that helps everyone in the community,” said Szklenski.
One area anyone can educate themselves in is how to recognize signs of child abuse. First, has a child’s behavior changed drastically? Is a normally happy, easy going kid suddenly withdrawing or having anger outbursts? Second, physically, are there unexplained bruises or marks? Or is there discomfort in simple movements? Thirdly, listen to childrens’ conversations. They may offer hints or information while talking with peers.
If you do suspect abuse, talk to the child.
“Really that’s the big part about recognizing child abuse is taking the time to ask ‘what’s happening, what’s going on?'” said Blackman. “Not necessarily ‘what’s wrong with you’ but ‘what’s happened with you’.”
If you do suspect child abuse, Pennsylvania’s Childline is 1-800-932-0313. All reports go through checks and balances to determine what steps are required to follow up on that report.
“Our roles are really to report. they’re not the investigative role,” said Blackman. “Its to say ‘I’m concerned that something is happening.”