It Takes a Community to Keep Kids Safe
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Resilient Lehigh Valley and community partners call on everyone to help prevent and mitigate child abuse.
With social distancing recommendations tightening to control the spread of COVID-19, families all across our region continue to face multiple stresses, including physical and psychological health risks, school and business changes, family confinement, isolation and economic vulnerability. Through all of that, children are particularly vulnerable.
Since the start of Pennsylvania stay-at-home orders in March, there has been a precipitous drop in reported cases of child abuse. From May 1 – May 30, media reports indicate the decline was 40% from a year earlier. Unfortunately, this decrease does not necessarily mean there are fewer cases of child abuse and neglect, rather that the counties are not receiving information on the cases. In fact, part of the disturbing trend is a wave of severe injuries in abused children. At least 155 children died or nearly died this year in Pennsylvania as a result of suspected child abuse or neglect, according to state data from Jan. 1 to July 15, compared to 144 in all of 2019.
One of the main reasons for the lack of reported suspected abuse is that there is limited to no contact between children and mandated reporters, who make the majority of the reports. Mandated reporters are individuals who work in areas where they have some contact with children and are required within their job description and job duties, like teachers, counselors and physicians. Mandated reporters make calls to the child welfare hotline when they have a suspicion or concern of child abuse or neglect.
“These are unprecedented times; even under normal circumstances, parents can feel overwhelmed and anxious putting children at risk for fallout,” states Beth Tomlinson, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Senior Director, Education and lead strategist for Resilient Lehigh Valley.
Our goal is to put families first and de-stigmatize asking for help. There are resources available that can strengthen individuals and families and help keep kids safe.
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley is focused on building a trauma-informed Lehigh Valley. Tomlinson is leading the effort through Resilient Lehigh Valley, a regional collaborative focused on building a trauma-informed Lehigh Valley where all kids are safe and supported. A coalition of educators, mental health specialists and local government, Resilient Lehigh Valley has been working with community partners to build awareness around individual’s responses to everyday stressors. This is especially important now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stress during this global crisis may be especially high for parents, many of whom are charged with educating children from home, along with maintaining jobs and juggling other responsibilities. Students may also be stressed in new ways, such as the extended time learning in a different environment or being away from their teachers and peers for months. Throughout this time, loved ones may feel more anxious, afraid, worried, fearful, frustrated, isolated, or stressed.
As part of the campaign, parents are encouraged to practice self-care and ask for help before hurting someone they love. Additionally, members of the community are called upon to pay close attention and ask questions. If they see something or have concerns, they are obligated to report their concern.
If something does not look safe, sound safe or feel safe, community members are encouraged to report it by calling 1-800-932-0313. To connect a family in need with resources, they can call 610-782-3200 in Lehigh County or 610-252-9060 in Northampton County. If they suspect immediate danger, they should call 911.
“When a family member, neighbor or friend calls the hotline to report their suspicion of child abuse or neglect, it does not necessarily mean automatic removal of the child(ren),” states Tomlinson. “It will set in motion an investigation with the ultimate goal of keeping children safe and families together. It takes a community to keep kids safe. We need everyone in our community to know and understand the warning signs of abuse and neglect, and we need parents to know that it’s ok to ask for help, and know where to turn for help.”
Produced in partnership with Faces International and ASR Media Productions, the #KeepKidsSafe Child Abuse Prevention and Mitigation Campaign is a multi-faceted marketing effort using social media and digital advertising, television PSAs, and website and print-ready materials to raise awareness around this important community issue. The goal of the campaign is to connect with as many people as possible, raising awareness of the risk and offering a potentially life-saving solution – making the call.