Living Columns & Blogs

Talk to children about abuse and break the culture of silence

Throughout the month of April, Centre County residents and visitors might notice blue ribbons and pinwheels in various locations. April is Child Abuse Prevention month. The Blue Ribbon Campaign began as a way to promote awareness of child abuse and to educate individuals on ways to prevent abuse. It is said that this tradition began with a grandmother who tied a blue ribbon on her car antenna to remind her of the bruises on her grandson who died in 2008 as a result of child abuse. Pinwheels, adopted as the new national symbol for the prevention of child abuse by Prevent Child Abuse America, represent the carefree childhood that all children deserve.

Unfortunately, child abuse remains one of those topics that people don’t want to talk about. However, in the past 5 years, approximately 150 children have died in Pennsylvania as a result of abuse and neglect. At least 70 percent of these children were younger than 5. Additionally, in 2015, Pennsylvania saw 3,855 cases of abuse and just more than half of those cases involved sexual abuse. Children who are abused suffer from the effects of that trauma socially, emotionally and medically all of their lives. The cost of child abuse and neglect is staggering. A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that the lifetime costs of all confirmed cases of abuse/neglect in one year are approximately $124 billion.

The protection of children is the responsibility of adults and every adult in the community can play a role in that protection, whether they have children of their own or not. In Centre County, one way adults can help is by participating in a Stewards of Children program. Opportunities are provided monthly for community members to participate, at no cost, in this two-hour training to learn the steps to protect children from sexual abuse. This evidence-based program has found that if you can reach just 5 percent of the population, this will effect change. Centre County is only one of three counties in the nation that has reached that goal. Please visit to sign up for training.

Stewards teaches seven steps to help protect children. These steps include:

▪ Know the facts and educate yourself about child abuse. One in 10 children will have been abused by their 18th birthday. It is likely you know a child who has been abused or who is being abused.

▪ Talk about it. Talk openly with your children and teach them about their bodies, about what abuse is, and about sex. You can start when children are young and speak to them often, in age-appropriate ways.

▪ Learn the signs. Signs can be physical, but they can also be emotional or behavioral. Be aware and learn what these signs are.

▪ Make a plan. Think about what you would do if a child disclosed abuse to you. This moment is a critical one for children and it is important that you don’t overreact or express anger or disbelief.

Together, adults can protect children and break the cycle of silence.

Mary Ann Zimmerman and Denise Herr McCann are members of the local Communities That Care collaborative.