Pennsylvania is marking Child Abuse Prevention Month, which aims to educate those who work with children as well as individuals about how to prevent a child from being abused.
In 2010, there were 24,615 reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania, down from 25,342 in 2009.
This year, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) will raise awareness of child abuse by painting three murals with abuse prevention themes.
But Beth Bitler, the alliance's Program Director, says this month is meant to do more than just raise awareness.
"People know that there is a problem and they know that child abuse is very damaging for children, that it has long term consequences for them," Bitler said, "but we try to go beyond that and tell people, 'Here are some things that you can do.'"
The PFSA provides free classes year-round to teach those who work with children, such as doctors, teachers and police officers to recognize and properly report suspected child abuse.
However, Bitler says people can take action to prevent abuse, even if they don't work with children.
"It might be just reaching out to that family; it might be that, for example, you're in a store, and you see a child having a tantrum and a parent losing their cool and starting to become really upset and overwhelmed with the child," Bitler said.
Bitler said the normal response is to glare at the parent with disapproving looks, chastising them for what could be seen as poor parenting. However, she says that simply frustrates a parent even more. Instead, Bitler suggests going up to the frustrated parent and using some light talk and some small jokes to defuse any anger building within the parent.
"How about just approaching that parent and saying, 'Jeez, it's really hard when you have a kid who is having a problem in public and,' you know, 'you're doing the best you can,'" opined Bitler.
She said there has been a large jump in the number of individuals who have sought training in becoming a mandated reporter as well as many more who wanted to take the PFSA "front porch project," a community-based training initiative for the general public on how to protect children from abuse. She says the increase can be attributed to one set of troubling indictments.
On November 4, a grand jury indicted former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child abuse. But Bitler says if something good came out of this case, it's the heightened awareness people have now to sexual abuse.
"People, I think, have become more aware, and talking about it more. It kind of, it has brought it a little more out of the secrecy. And it's kind of, I think, introduced the idea to a lot of people that there is institutionalization of child abuse as well just in individual families," said Bitler.
If any child you know is possibly being abused or neglected, you can report it to Childline, Pennsylvania's child abuse hotline, at 1-800-932-0313.