Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Our Collective Responsibility to Prevent Child Abuse

The month of April for me seems like a natural and perfect time to share a reflection on Child Abuse Prevention Month. Not only is April a nationally recognized awareness month, but 33 years ago, when I had my first child during the month of April, I thought little about how to protect my child and more about the joys of having a child and growing my family. My belief at that time was that a lot of love and guidance would keep my child safe and protected. I had the support of family, friends and our community. Though I still value those beliefs, my career in victim services showed me that even with love, support and being vigilant in my safety efforts, it would take a lot more work to protect our children.

National statistics on child abuse are still staggering to this day. The Mandated Reporter* shared recent data, showing that in 2022, there were 3,096,101 cases of child abuse or neglect investigated. This investigation also resulted in discovering that abuse cases decreased from 588,229 in 2021 to 558,899 cases in 2022. The Mandated Reporter also found that of those child abuse cases, just over 74% were cases of neglect, 17% were physical abuse, nearly 11% were sexual abuse, and almost 7% involved psychological mistreatment.

These numbers are difficult to hear, but even more distressing is the news that childhood deaths from abuse or neglect increased in 2022 to an estimated 1,990 over the previous year’s 1,820.

In this line of work, we know how important reporting suspected abuse is for the protection of the child. Sadly, reporting decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many, including the Mandated Reporter, believing school closures may have played a role. Now with schools back to normal operations, we have seen an increase in the number of abuse reports.

Even one abuse case is one too many. As we continue our mission to protect the children and youth in our Diocese, we acknowledge that it is everyone’s responsibility, including our staff, volunteers and clergy to understand and prevent child abuse each and every day.

At the Diocese of Harrisburg, we require anyone working with the children in our community to have background checks and clearances and to be educated with our Mandated Reporter training. In addition, we collaborate with our parents in providing the children in our religious education programs, youth ministries and Catholic schools with child abuse prevention education. All children in our programs participate in the VIRTUS “Empowering God’s Children” program. Each parish and school displays Diocesan information for reporting any allegations of abuse and publishes our Safe Environment and Youth Protection information on their websites and in parish bulletins.

To continue to enhance our efforts to combat child abuse, we recently contracted with VIRTUS for an adult training program. This program will begin this year to continue enhancing our pledge to protect our children. In working together, we provide the best opportunities for our children to flourish, knowing they have support in their homes, schools and faith community.

For additional information on Child Abuse Prevention or our Youth Protection policies and procedures, please visit our website at www.hbgdiocese.org.

*website https://mandatedreporter.com/blog/the-state-of-child-abuse-in-2022/

(Michelle Shae is the Safe Environment Director for the Diocese of Harrisburg.)

By Michelle Shae, Special to The Witness

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