Although the grand jury report’s findings have been speculated upon for months, the details it reveals of systemic and widespread sexual abuse of children by priests — and the cover-up of that abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania are shocking and deeply offensive.
Childhood should be a time of innocence. Those who perpetrated these crimes were supposed to be pillars of goodness, kindness, mercy, and trust. Instead, they were pedophiles, predators, and thieves — stealing the precious wonder of our children — something that can never be returned.
There are lessons in this report for members of every faith and those who hold no religious beliefs. Chief among them is holding ourselves and others accountable to follow the safeguards lawmakers enacted after the Sandusky scandal in the form of amendments to our state’s Child Protective Services Law. Adults who care for our children must be vetted through background and criminal history checks, and obtain all required state and federal child abuse clearances. Organizations and institutions must have strong policies and practices that prohibit one adult with one child and rather must embrace a “two-deep leadership” philosophy. Finally, all staff and volunteers must have comprehensive training on child abuse recognition and reporting at the point of hire and ongoing through professional development opportunities. Parents must not be passive and assume those professionals who interact with their children are “safe.” They must take it upon themselves to ask to see the clearances and evidence that policies for maximum child protection are in place. Be engaged. Be proactive. Be vigilant. Your children’s innocence and safety demand nothing less.
The sad reality is that child abuse touches every community in Pennsylvania. And, as documented in the most recent PA Department. of Human Services Child Protective Services Annual Report, child sexual abuse is involved in nearly half of the substantiated cases of child abuse in our state. Caseworkers documented more than 3,400 cases of child sexual abuse in 2017 alone. In Northumberland County, the latest figures from the state Department of Human Services show there were 92 substantiated allegations of child abuse in 2017, 43 (46.7%) of which involved the sexual abuse of children.
It’s not just happening in Catholic parishes. Child sexual abuse can and does happen anywhere.
As community members, we each have a role to play in making sure that kids are safe. When children tell you they are being mistreated, believe them. When something strikes you as odd about how a child is being treated, don’t dismiss the hunch or your gut feeling. Make a report to ChildLine by calling 800-932-0313. Last year, 8,482 permissive reporters — average Pennsylvanians, not mandated reporters — made a report. We know that those folks made the difference in saving the lives of some of the 88 children who nearly died of abuse. Forty other abused kids were not so fortunate. They died from maltreatment.
I also encourage you to take part in an awareness program like the Front Porch Project® offered by Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. Through interactive discussions and real-life scenarios, the Front Porch Project® teaches neighbors how to defuse potentially dangerous situations involving children.
To deepen your understanding of how to recognize and report suspected child abuse, consider taking a Mandated Reporter Training (MRT) course. Mandated reporters are professionals and volunteers who are required under state law to report suspected abuse. PFSA offers comprehensive and convenient bilingual MRT classes online, on-demand, or in-person.
If you’re a parent or a child’s caregiver who struggles with substance use disorder, take an important step in your recovery by joining our “Families in Recovery” initiative. This specialized parenting program helps moms and dads balance the demands of their recovery from addiction with the responsibilities of safe parenting. The goal is to keep kids safe.
The worst thing we can do upon reading this report is to ignore it. We’re out of patience. We’re out of forgiveness. And we’re out of time. Make child protection a paramount priority in this commonwealth. Right now. Because every child needs a champion and it can be YOU.
Angela M. Liddle is president and CEO of Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance.