Child abuse is a public health issue, with child protective services responding to almost four million allegations of child maltreatment across the country each year. To draw attention to the issue, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and in Pennsylvania, the recently held Child Abuse Prevention Conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg drew supporters and advocates, including several from Penn State.
Christian Connell, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said the event was a gathering of state officials, legislators, child abuse prevention advocates, and individuals with lived experience in the child welfare system to encourage Pennsylvania legislators to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and to confirm an independent Office of the Child Advocate for children in the state.
“Preventing child abuse is a collaborative effort. It requires the efforts and commitment of state officials and those in public agencies, as well as the awareness and involvement of our communities and citizens. This point was echoed by many of the officials that spoke in the Capitol Building,” said Connell, who is also a Social Science Research Institute cofunded faculty member and affiliate of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.
The event was sponsored by HEAL PA (Healing, Empowerment, Advocacy, Learning, Prevention, and Action), a statewide coalition sponsored by the Governor's Office of Advocacy and Reform which Connell is involved with. HEAL PA was recently selected as the Pennsylvania chapter for Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA) to bring awareness to the issue of child abuse, educate the public on how to prevent it, and provide support and resources to those affected by it.
According to Connell, prior to the event, HEAL PA distributed pinwheels to state legislative offices to raise awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month and highlight legislative action that can support prevention of child abuse.
“Pinwheels are the national symbol for Child Abuse Prevention Month, signifying the idea that all children should be able to experience joy, playfulness, and a safe, nurturing childhood,” Connell said. In addition, the Capitol Building was lit up blue in honor of all children affected by child abuse or neglect throughout Pennsylvania.
Each year, PCAA host events during the month of April to encourages communities to work together to support children and their families and provide what they need to thrive in both calm and challenging times. For more information about PCAA and Child Abuse Prevention Month, visit their website.
Established in 2012, the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, part of the Social Science Research Institute, is a national leader in research designed to influence public policy that better protects vulnerable children from abuse.