LEWISTOWN - With the Jerry Sandusky trial under way, sexual violence and child abuse are being focused on more than ever.
Though child abuse happens every day, several different groups in Mifflin County and the surrounding areas are doing everything they can to aid children that have been abused, and to prevent further abuse, said Mackenzie Seiler, Director of Mifflin County Children and Youth Services. By educating families, teachers and other community members alike, groups are coming together to make Mifflin County as safe as possible, tackling the issues of today, and instilling hope for tomorrow.
Seiler said safety is the paramount concern of her organization.
Mifflin County Children and Youth is the county agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. The agency works closely with law enforcement, education, counseling, and other professionals to help families resolve the problems that lead to the mistreatment of children.
The best way to prevent abuse, according to Seiler is to educate. Children and Youth makes it a goal to do everything it can to educate families on abuse, tackling past issues and giving families the tools and information they need in order to keep future situations from occurring.
The group pulls together community resources, including mental health and substance abuse services, to provide families with the best help the area can provide. Mifflin County Children and Youth does everything they can to keep a child in his or her home, providing intensive services within. Seiler also stated that the state mandates just how much the group can do, which many people do not understand.
"Sometimes our hands are tied," Seiler said. Though the state feels that there must be physical evidence that a child is in severe pain or a child's daily function is impaired, Seiler said her office takes every single report as a very serious matter.
"The best thing we can do is educate ... We're here to help families," Seiler said, adding that she wishes to strengthen families, not destroy them.
She also said she believed it is everyone's responsibility to report when they see abuse, as so many times people "turn a blind eye to it." She said the agency feels that it is better to get involved early on, so even possible abuse situations should be reported.
With the concern of sexual abuse, Seiler stated that often victims feel ashamed, and never come forward for help.
"It's not something a child ever asks for," Seiler said, emphasizing the need for youths to understand that it is not their fault and they should not feel shame. Children and Youth work very closely with local law enforcement and have a children's resource center where individuals go through in depth interviewing and intensive counseling. Seilers encourages the community to be aware and report possible situations.
"So many times abuse is suspected all along, and no one called," Seiler said.
In regard to child abuse prevention, Children and Youth does not work alone.
The Tuscarora Intermediate Unit Community Education Services also believes that, "The key is education."
According to Special Projects Manager Karin Knode, educating professionals to ensure they are aware of what to look for to detect child abuse and what their role is as a mandated reporter is essential.
In the past year, as part of the Systems Teams that Care, Knode has coordinated two Community Cross Trainings in the Mifflin County School District as well as with local community agencies. At these meetings, information was presented to better equip attendees with information including what services are available, and how to access these services, in regards to child abuse. The TIU itself provides the same training once a year to its staff who interact with children on the job.
Tom Walker at the Penn State Learning Center also gave word that locally several actions are being taken to prevent abuse. Penn State entered into a three-year partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape to enhance the university system's ability to prevent and respond to sexual assault.
"Locally, the Penn State Extension Offices in Juniata and Mifflin counties along with the Penn State Lewistown Learning Center have been in contact with our local PCAR affiliate, The Abuse Network," Walker said. "I have spoken to Crystal Paige, Director of The Abuse Network to organize a local meeting that would help identify possible areas of collaboration, to expand the training for our staff and volunteers and begin sharing resources to strengthen our local efforts to prevent child sexual abuse."
Along with this, he has also spoken to Nancy Records, Communities That Care Mobilizer, to explore additional avenues of providing community education on preventing sexual assault. Dates of these meetings are still being discussed.
With several different agencies coming together to educate those in Mifflin County, the future looks bright for the safety of the areas children. It is important that people continue to educate themselves, and report when they suspect abuse is occurring.
"This is something I feel very passionately about," Seilers said. "Children are our future. Keeping them safe is everyone's responsibility."
For more information on Mifflin County Children and Youth services, call 248-3994 or visit www.co.mifflin.pa.us/ChildrenandYouth/Pages/CYS-main-pg.aspx.