Wear blue today to support child abuse prevention

These figures in front of Evergreen Elm on Main Street support Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is held every April.

McKean County residents will have several ways to show support for Child Abuse Prevention Month. That includes the upcoming Wear Blue Day and “Stand Against Child Abuse” community awareness walk.

Wear Blue Day is happening today.

“Wear Blue Day allows for ALL citizens of McKean to show support for our community’s children and families,” said Mikele Bay, director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of McKean County. “All you have to do is take a picture — of you, your friends, your co-workers (we’ve even had pets) — wearing blue and share it on the CACMC Facebook page @cacmckeancounty.”

She explained the simple activity is a way to show visible support to those who need that support the most.

“Strength is in numbers,” Bay said. “This event allows children (and families) to literally see how our community believes that every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment, free of abuse.”

Anyone who needs help posting their photo can email trhartzell@mckeancountypa.org, who will share it on social media.

“McKean County has proudly hosted this virtual event for the last several years with lots of success,” Bay noted, adding that people can use these hashtags: #WearBlueDay #StandAgainstChildAbuse #McKeanCountyStands.

The “Stand Against Child Abuse” community awareness walk will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday and will go from the Smethport Firehall to the McKean County Courthouse. It will be held rain or shine.

According to McKean County CAC Family Advocate Tonia Hartzell, this walk was the idea of a family of a child that has been to the Center, with the hopes of bringing awareness to the community and to provide support for other children and families that have experienced abuse.

“Their efforts to become a voice after their own experience are truly amazing!” Hartzell said.

Parking is available at the firehall and old Costa’s Supermarket. Transportation will be available at the courthouse to shuttle back to the firehall.

Any questions should be directed to Hartzell at 887-3486 or trhartzell@mckeancountypa.org.

Participants will be provided with pinwheels to be planted by the front entrance of the courthouse.

“The pinwheels represent the 131 children who received services through the CAC of McKean County in 2020,” said Bay.

Participants are asked to practice social distancing and wear masks when appropriate.

On April 28, a panel workshop will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. via Zoom.

The workshop is open to the community and is slated to include a presentation from a social service worker, according to Stephanie Eckstrom, MSW program coordinator in the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

More information will be available closer to the event.

Bay encourages people to be mindful of possible child abuse in the community.

“One of the most important things learned over the last year, since COVID began, is how important a role mandated reporters, such as school professionals and in home service providers, play in providing for the safety of our children,” she explained. “Child abuse is truly a community problem. Although April spotlights Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness, it is vital that we work to keep families safe all year round by being vigilant in our prevention and awareness efforts.”

She asked anyone with a suspicion of child abuse or anyone to whom a child has disclosed abuse to immediately report it to Childline (the 24-hour child abuse hotline) at 1-800-932-0313.

Families can download an app with information about the CAC — such as services provided and direct links to Childline Hotline and Safe2Say Something PA — on their Android or Apple device. Search for McKean County Children’s Advocacy Center to find the app.

Additionally, people can look under the Events section of the app to see all the activities happening in April.

Bay talked about the impact the pandemic has had on families and on the Children’s Advocacy Center.

“Families are experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety, not accounting for the lack of outside exposure, which has created a breeding ground for the increased risk of child abuse,” she explained.

At the CAC, the first half of 2020 was challenging, and there was a 24% decrease from 2019 to 2020 in the overall number of children and families.

“The CAC adapted to incorporate more social media and virtual opportunities for families to receive services,” Bay said. “We were extremely fortunate, as a team, that we were able to continue providing services throughout much of the pandemic with many thanks to our frontline responders, such as law enforcement, child protective services, and medical providers.”

McKean County’s CAC has seen similar changes in numbers to what others CACs are seeing.

“Anecdotally, many of our colleagues in the CAC world have experienced a dramatic increase in their numbers, especially as children return to in-person learning and activities outside of the home,” she said. “Our Center referrals increased 89% in the 1st quarter of 2021 from the same time last year — with a 22% overall increase in referrals over the last 5 years.

“I’m forever grateful to our team members for continuing to work every day to promote the best possible outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Bay.

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