Pa. health experts highlight danger of pandemic isolation for child abuse victims

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For much of the pandemic, many people stayed indoors, away from others. While health experts say that was the safe thing to do for almost everyone, they explained how it was far more dangerous for victims of child abuse.

The wind is blowing and these pinwheels outside of Penn State’s Children’s Hospital are spinning. Each represents one of the nearly 500 kids who passed through the Protection of Children program in 2020.

It’s also a symbol to physicians who treat child abuse victims.

They say they’ve seen a number of very serious injuries over the past year — and aren’t surprised.

“I can say that they do seem to be related to parents who are stressed and isolated,” said Dr. Lori Frasier, a pediatrician with Penn State Health. ” I think we can approach child abuse as a prevention process to help families and children.”

That’s exactly what Staci German, a child advocacy coordinator, is working to do.

“I would love to be out of business, I would love my job not to be here anymore, but the reality is that child abuse continues to happen even with all of the efforts we’re doing with prevention,” said German, who works with Pa. Coalition Against Rape.

She says prevention is key, but you have to know what you’re looking for.

“If you see unexpected changes in behavior, a child who is normally very engaging and you can talk to that child now becomes withdrawn and detached, children experiencing anxiety that is not their normal manner of behavior,” German said.

Experts say reporting has declined because the pandemic has kept children away from mandated reporters — like teachers and coaches — who are required by law to report abuse.

But, they say, anyone can and should report suspected abuse.

“If you’re just really worried about a child, you don’t have to know all the details, you don’t have to be 100% certain, you may be the only person that has eyes on that child,” said Deborah Harrison, executive director of York County Children’s Advocacy Center. “It takes grown-ups to keep kids safe and so we really encourage people to get educated about how to protect kids in your own community 

On Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m., Pa. Coalition Against Rape is holding a virtual town hall on preventing child abuse and harassment. Visit www.SafeSecureKids.org to sign up.

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