Protecting children and serving struggling families: Dauphin County is here to help
As Child Abuse Prevention Month in April comes to an end, our commitment to protecting our vulnerable children against abuse does not.
Being a parent is challenging under normal circumstances. But with the coronavirus crisis, schools are closed, parents are working from home or have lost their jobs, and families are coping with additional stressors like food insecurity or isolation. These unique circumstances and added pressures can take a terrible toll on parents.
Since the stay-at-home order began in mid-March, however, the number of child abuse reports and referrals for services in Dauphin County is down approximately 30 percent compared to the monthly average. The state is also seeing a roughly 50 percent reduction in average daily calls to ChildLine since social-distancing measures were introduced.
Decreased calls do not mean that abuse and neglect are not occurring, though. In many cases, it’s school employees - mandated reporters - who report suspected abuse to our Children and Youth Agency. Of the 39,040 reports made by mandated reporters to the state’s ChildLine service in 2018, more than a third were reported by school employees, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
The enormous stress and physical isolation felt by parents and families can lead to a higher risk for child abuse. Neighbors, teachers, extended family members and others who interact with children should be aware of the potential signs of abuse: changes in a child’s mood or behavior, noticeable changes in a child’s weight or physical appearance that could suggest concerns with care, and significant changes in school activities.
Despite the coronavirus-related closures, Dauphin County Children and Youth Services continues to respond to every report of suspected abuse to assure the safety and well-being of children. In recent weeks, Children and Youth Services has seen a huge shift in how it serves the community. Wearing personal protective equipment, caseworkers are going into homes or conducting visits by curbside check-in. Caseworkers are also holding virtual family group conferencing sessions to ensure counseling and critical supports continue. From holding more than 50 juvenile dependency hearings by teleconference throughout the month of April, including seven adoption hearings, to going out every day to see children and assure for their safety, the agency has continued to show its dedication and honor to serving the community.
This year, Dauphin County Social Services celebrates its 60th anniversary. During the past six decades, the agency has developed and grown in the services that it provides to children and families. We are fortunate to have staff who are exceedingly responsive to the changing needs of families.
If you’re in need of help, or suspect abuse, call Dauphin County Children and Youth Services at 717-780-7200 or the State Child Abuse Hotline, ChildLine, at 1-800-932-0313 or go to www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.
Also, families that may need extra emotional support may text HOME to number 741-741, day or night, for support or call Dauphin County Crisis Intervention, providing 24-hour emergency mental health services referrals during emotional crisis, at 717-232-7511. Another great resource is Contact HELPLINE, a 24-hour confidential listening and referral service, that can be reached by calling 211.
As the blue ribbons that are associated with Child Abuse Prevention Month come down, our commitment to keeping kids safe remains. We stand ready to help, to offer much-needed support during this crisis and always.
By Dauphin County Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III and Children and Youth Services Administrator Marisa McClellan