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York County child health advocates weigh in on child abuse's impact on communities

During the month of April, communities across the country are shedding light on the need to take action to prevent child abuse.

YORK, Pa. — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

According to the Children's Bureau 2020 Child Maltreatment Report, nearly 618,000 children were victims of child abuse and neglect in the federal fiscal year of 2020. (The Children's Bureau serves in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). 

The York County Children's Advocacy Center provided statistics that report various levels of child abuse. In that document, research shows more than 870 children were reported to have been victims of physical and sexual abuse.

"It's - I think - a great thing to have a timeframe where we really highlight and can concentrate some events and activities and call attention to an issue like the issue of child abuse," said Deborah Harrison, executive director of the York County Children's Advocacy Center.

Harrison says months like these remind people of the magnitude of the problem and the role everyone must play even if it doesn't impact them. 

More than two years into the pandemic, she says report numbers are steadily climbing to where they were pre-pandemic, after reports had decreased during the height of the shutdown.

However, advocates did not believe the drop in numbers to be an accurate reflection.

"We were concerned about the reduction in the number of reports because we didn't think that meant that abuse was dropping we in fact were worried that it was increasing," Harrison said.

She attributes this to families stressing at the height of the pandemic, as businesses were closing, and there were new shifts in everyday life. Harrison said children were being sent home only to leave them vulnerable with no presence of mandated reporters (i.e., counselors, coaches, teachers, etc.).

Lynn Carson, director of operations for UPMC's Child Abuse Advocacy Center reminds people child abuse takes a great toll on long-term physical, and emotional health.

"With adverse experiences, adults are more likely to have heart disease, suffer from diabetes, have depression and all of those ailments or diseases put a huge impact on the health care system," she said.

Carson cites the term, transgenerational trauma alluding to the crisis as a domino effect as generations may experience the same or different types of abuse but go untreated only to affect the next.

"You have a parent who may be was abused as a child, who did not finish their education, is unable to have a job or consistent job because of depression," said Carson," then they have children and there's stress in the household; the child ends up getting abused-it becomes a cycle honestly."

A cycle she says can be prevented with communities taking an all-hands-on-deck approach and really working together to solve the problem. 

Carson says it's important for children to have a support network of counseling, therapy when there are reports of abuse. When reporting it, it is important for parents to place belief in the child to aid in the recovery process.

The recovery process may not be an easy or cheap one.

"Lost worker-productivity, special education costs, child-welfare expenditures, criminal justice expenditures; you're talking about over $800,000 per victim in costs," said Carson. 

"We could potentially fund college education for 70% of children in the United States with the money we spend on addressing the impact of child abuse."

If you have a concern for a child's well-being or need to report abuse, you are urged to call the "ChildLine," of Pennsylvania at 1-800-932-0313.

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