A new child advocacy center in Somerset County wants to help victims of child abuse and their families. They also hope to educate the community to prevent child abuse.
“Child abuse happens on a daily basis,” said Sara Buterbaugh, the director of the Somerset County Child Advocacy Center.
- 1 in 10 children will be abused
- 90% of child victims are abused by a family member or someone they know
- 60% of abuse victims never tell anyone
The center held an open house for the public Wednesday at its new location on N. Kimberly Avenue in Somerset Borough. The larger site opened in January.
The center works with law enforcement and victim services to interview children who are abused and help their families.
“There are so many family dynamics when it comes to child abuse,” Buterbaugh said.
According to the Somerset County Children and Youth Services Administrator Doug Walters, in 2014 they investigated 159 reports of sexual or physical child abuse. In 2017, they investigated 319 reports.
“Cases continue to rise, number of reports continue to rise,” Walters said.
Child advocates said preventing abuse starts with education in schools, for parents and the community.
“The more education and prevention services we bring to the community, we are hoping that the numbers of reported child sexual and physical abuse will decrease,” Buterbaugh said.”
A new program launched in January to educate Cambria and Somerset Counties: Safe & Healthy Communities Initiative.
The program launched in January through a three-year $750,000 grant. It provides free prevention training to schools, children and parents.
“If they know 10 children, chances are one of them has been or will be sexually abused and there are things we can do proactively to stop that,” said Shiryl Barto, the Somerset County coordinator for the initiative.
Their goal is to educate 5 percent of the population about child abuse.
“You can really begin to change not only awareness, but the behaviors in individuals that will lead to safer children,” Barto said.
Their advice to parents: talk with kids about safe touches and know who your children are with.
“Minimize the chance of one-on-one contact between children and adults, especially adults we’re not super familiar with,” Barto said.
They also recommend families learn about possible signs in children who may have been abused: trouble sleeping or eating, fear or unease around certain adults, mood swings, changes in personal hygiene.
“If we can reach these kids when they are vulnerable, when they are still amenable to change, when they’re ready to learn, I think that we have a higher chance of them making it into adulthood without becoming a victim,” Barto said.
To report suspected child abuse, contact your local law enforcement, children and youth services or the ChildLine hotline at :1-800-932-0313.
You can also visit the Childline website.
The new Somerset County Child Advocacy Center is located at 218 North Kimberly Avenue, Suite 4, Somerset, PA 15501. The center’s phone number is: 814-445-1628.