An annual report from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare showed a record-breaking number of calls of suspected child abuse or neglect, but this might not be all bad news.
Department spokeswoman Anne Bale said officials think the increase in calls might not be because there are more cases of actual abuse happening.
“What we’re seeing is that we’re having a better awareness in Pennsylvania in the last year or so, and that has resulted in more people calling in suspected abuses," Bale said. "And we feel that’s a good thing because in the long run, we are keeping that conversation going and we’re keeping children safe."
Bale said the child abuse hotline registered more than 26,000 calls in 2012, an increase of 2,286 calls from 2011.
Child social services noticed a spike in calls of suspected abuse when former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexual abuse in November of 2011 and convicted in June of 2012.
The department also reported that there were 33 deaths from child abuse in 2012, which is one fewer than a year earlier.
“Anytime a child dies of abuse in Pennsylvania, the department and a team of people get together to discuss any issues that could have been addressed prior to the death, anything that may have gone wrong, anything that we can improve upon, anything that we can do better to prevent it from happening again,” Bale said.
According to Bale, the majority of calls come from mandated reporters, which are people who work with children regularly such as teachers or hospital workers who are required by law to report suspected abuse.
Dr. Mary Carrasco of A Child’s Place at Mercy said that there are certain signs to look for if you suspect a child is being abused.
“If you see bruises in unusual places or if you see a kid who appears to be really afraid of their parents, you need to be concerned, and you have a responsibility as a citizen to make a report of abuse,” Carrasco said.
Carrasco said the children’s reactions vary, and one child in an abusive environment might be resilient while another child in the same household might fall apart completely.
“It’s not just a saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ because what we all need to understand is that the future of the country and the future of the environment in which we grow up depends on every child growing up adequately,” Carrasco said.