LEWISTOWN - More than 3,400 children in Pennsylvania were victims of abuse in 2011, based on the Department of Public Welfare's most recent data. Of those children, seven were reported from Juniata County and 15 from Mifflin County, states the Annual Child Abuse Report.
The numbers rose in 2012 with 29 substantiated reports of child abuse documented in Mifflin County, said Mackenzie Seiler, administrator of Mifflin County Children and Youth Services. However, the increase may be due to an improved awareness of child abuse rather than an increase in abuse itself, she said.
"Do I believe that more children are being abused? No, but I do believe that more people are reporting it," Seiler said. "I think the numbers speak to the fact that people are recognizing the importance of reporting a concern. Taking the time to report suspected abuse can make all the difference in the life of a child."
In an effort to promote local awareness as well as Child Abuse Prevention Month, Mifflin County Children and Youth Services is hosting "Sundae in the Park" from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Kish Park.
The event will feature family fun activities, like face painting, basketball, family photos and an ice cream sundae station, designed to bring families together and encourage interaction, Seiler said. On the other hand, the event is also meant to promote local resources and assistance available to prevent child abuse, she added.
"'Sundae in the Park' is really about promoting awareness in our community," Seiler said. "The message we're trying to give is that anyone can make a difference in the life of a child. If you have a suspicion or a concern, call and report it to us. It only takes a minute and a simple phone call."
Children and Youth Services staff will be present at the event, handing out information about reporting abuse and recognizing signs of abuse as well as to answer any questions.
"Our agency has such a negative connotation in the community," Seiler said. "People think we're here to take away their kids, but that's not the case. We're here to work with you and make a difference. Our job is to prevent the removal of kids from their homes. We want them to be safe, but we want them to be with their families. That's where they should be."
The main focus of Children and Youth Services is to help families access local resources and services that can reduce the risk factors that cause abuse and neglect. Risk factors, for example, can include drug use, financial difficulty or single parenting.
"Our primary goal is to keep kids in their home and to ensure their safety in the home," Seiler said. "So if we have a family who's struggling with addiction, our job is to link them up with appropriate drug and alcohol services while monitoring to make sure they follow through. If we have a family struggling to purchase food or meet housing needs, we link them with services to assist in those areas."
This process is referred to as "general protective services," which can be in response to inappropriate discipline, lack of supervision, a dirty house or general neglect, Seiler said. The more serious cases, resulting from founded sexual, emotional or physical abuse, are called "child protective service" referrals.
"We get more than 1,000 referrals a month," Seiler said. "Most of them are for general services, but some are much more serious. Either way, I'd rather get a hundred calls with nothing to them versus someone who doesn't call and a child gets abused or worse."
This is what Sundae in the Park is all about, reminding people that it only takes one minute, one phone call, to make a difference in a child's life, Seiler said.
For more information about the event, Mifflin County Children and Youth Services or to report possible child abuse, call 248-3994. The office is located at 144 E. Market St., Lewistown.