BELLEFONTE — The Centre County department that investigates reports of child abuse has seen an increase in the number of reports it is receiving since national media began focusing attention on the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Carol Smith, director of Centre County Children and Youth Services, said Tuesday that her office received 40 referrals in the first nine days of November. On average, the office gets 60 to 65 new referrals a month.
The reports being received include not only suspected instances of abuse and neglect, but concerns about children’s care.
“As a county agency responsible for doing those investigations, we’re prepared to follow up on all the investigations and reports that we receive,” Smith said.
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When asked about the situation with Sandusky and The Second Mile, the nonprofit organization Sandusky founded and allegedly used to meet potential victims, Smith said she couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
Kristen Houser, vice president of communications and development at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said it’s not uncommon for a high-profile case to create more visibility and awareness about the issue. The hope is that people will pay more attention to the red flags in abuse cases and report suspicious activities to authorities.
“This is going on in every community all over the country — the sexual abuse of kids by folks they know and trust and other people not reporting the warning signs,” Houser said.
If the allegations against Sandusky are true, it raises the question of how the abuse could have continued for so long without someone intervening.
Houser said that even when exposed to red flags, people may not report them, and instead try to talk themselves out of it.
“We’re not always willing to see it for what it is,” she said.
She said that reporting a suspicious activity is not making an accusation, it’s just allowing a trained professional to look into it in the proper way.
Smith, who answered questions during a news conference after Tuesday’s meeting of county commissioners, said her department is the agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse in Centre County on behalf of the state.
When the office receives a report from the community or from the central registry in Harrisburg, staff begins an investigation. In some cases, the law requires a joint investigation by Children and Youth Services and police.
To report suspected child abuse, call Centre County Children and Youth Services at 355-6755 or the state Department of Public Welfare ChildLine at 800-932-0313.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.