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If you suspect child abuse or neglect, report it

Do you know the signs of child abuse?

People do not want to think a child they know is being abused or neglected. However, if you suspect child abuse or neglect you should report it.

Child abuse and neglect, unfortunately, is not uncommon. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) reported just over 44,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in the state of Pennsylvania, resulting in 79 near-fatalities and 46 fatalities.

What's even worse is that there may be many more victims than are presently unknown, due to underreported incidents.

Certain professionals, such as medical providers, teachers, child care workers, clergy, and priests are required by law to report when they suspect child abuse (for a complete list of mandated reporters visit keepkidsafe.pa.gov), though everyone should act regardless of their employment or volunteer status. Failure to report or to make a referral to the appropriate authorities may lead to serious consequences if you are an individual required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect. However, whether required by law or not, PA DHS encourages anyone who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect to make a report.

What are some signs that abuse is taking place, whether it's emotional, physical or sexual? And what are the signs that a child is being neglected?

In cases of physical abuse, some visual clues might be the appearance of frequent injuries the child has a hard time explaining, burns or bruises in unusual patterns, cigarette burns, defensive injuries and unseasonal clothing to hide injuries. Behavioral clues might be aggression, withdrawal or passiveness, and fear of going home or seeing family members, according to the PA DHS.

Though these signs might seem obvious, some of these indicators can also be caused by something other than abuse.

With a child who has been neglected, signs can include consistent dirtiness, obvious malnourishment, fatigue and listlessness, frequent absences or incidences of tardiness to school, the obvious need for medical help, or lack of sufficient and appropriate clothing for the weather, notes the PA DHS.

Sexual abuse can be signaled by sudden changes in appetite, behavior or school performance; complaints about pain in urinating; difficulty sitting or walking; sexually suggestive talk; or age-inappropriate behavior (visit keepkidssafe.pa.gov for information to help recognize the signs of child abuse or neglect).

Children who are abused can suffer many effects from their experiences. Abuse can lead to "improper brain development, impaired cognitive and socioemotional skills, lower language development and anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can even cause "higher risks for heart, lung and liver diseases, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol." Children who have been abused are also more likely to smoke and abuse drugs and alcohol.

Timely intervention is key in helping young people who have been abused. The sooner the report is made, the sooner a child can be removed from a situation and given appropriate support.

From 1961 to 1985, priest Monsignor Francis McCaa of the Holy Name Catholic Church in Ebensburg, Pa. sexually abused altar boys. Many of the survivors are now advocates in the fight against child abuse and have publicly stated the psychological horrors they face as adults as a result of the priest's actions.

According to The Guardian, "[one of the victims] Brian Gergely started drinking at 10 after he says he was groped by McCaa. Disappointing grades at school and two DUI convictions thwarted his ambition to become a lawyer. He is now a behavioral therapist for kids with special needs, has trouble keeping a girlfriend and is single, he said. In 2006, he tried to hang himself."

State Senator David Burns noted in the same article, "We have a large drug problem in our area, we deal with high driving-under-the-influence (DUI) arrests, and we just think that's because the community is poor and unemployed, but it could be that a lot of these kids have had a hard time integrating into society because of the impact of this abuse. It strains family and sexual relationships, and it often takes years, especially for a man, to report something."

You can make a report any time you suspect a child is the victim of child abuse. Trained specialists are available 24/7 to receive referrals of suspected child abuse and general child well-being concerns. If you've suspected child abuse or neglect make the call to ChildLine at 800-932-0313. Mandated reporters in the state of Pennsylvania can also file a report online, at Pennsylvania's Child Welfare Portal. Visit keepkidssafe.pa.gov for additional information on keeping Pennsylvania's children safe.

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