Agen­cies join forces to stop child abuse

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - OPINION - CH­ERYL CLOCK STAN­DARD STAFF

Just call.

If you are sus­pi­cious of child abuse or ne­glect. If you think it might be but re­ally don’t know. If you are wor­ried or con­cerned about a child.

Just call.

It is your duty, legally and eth­i­cally.

No proof is needed, only gen­uine con­cern.

The chil­dren’s aid so­ci­ety — lo­cally Fam­ily and Chil­dren’s Ser­vices Ni­a­gara — is the agency whose man­date it is to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of abuse or ne­glect. It has a team which will make that de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“If you’re not sure, call,” said Anna Bozza, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of FACS Ni­a­gara. “We’ll have a con­ver­sa­tion.”

In Ni­a­gara, 14 agen­cies are work­ing to­gether to help make it eas­ier for our com­mu­nity to keep chil­dren safe. They are the founders of PECAN — Part­ners to End Child Abuse in Ni­a­gara — and they have cre­ated a one-stop-shop web­site that helps peo­ple nav­i­gate their way through ques­tions about child abuse.

The search­able, in­ter­ac­tive site was launched ear­lier this year and of­fers tools and in­for­ma­tion to tar­get the aware­ness, pre­ven­tion and re­sponse to child abuse.

It com­bines the ex­per­tise of lo­cal agen­cies and of­fers easy ac­cess to the pub­lic, said An­drea Jack, chair of PECAN. Agen­cies in­clud­ing The Kris­ten French Child and Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre Ni­a­gara, the John Howard So­ci­ety of Ni­a­gara, both pub­lic and Catholic school boards, and Path­stone Men­tal Health are just some of the agen­cies in­volved.

It’s about tak­ing a com­mu­nity of lead­ers work­ing to­gether to end child abuse, said Janet Handy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the child ad­vo­cacy cen­tre.

And in that same spirit of com­mu­nity, it takes or­di­nary, ev­ery­day peo­ple to re­port sus­pi­cions of abuse, she said.

And yet, peo­ple might be re­luc­tant. They might as­sume some­one else will do it. They might worry that they’ll be iden­ti­fied. And they might hes­i­tate be­cause they aren’t sure if what they sus­pect is re­ally abuse or ne­glect. Maybe they’re wrong?

The over­whelm­ing mes­sage is to call FACS.

It’s a myth that a child pro­tec­tion agency al­ways takes the chil­dren, said Bozza. In fact, its rate of ad­mis­sion to care is less than four per cent. And 75 per cent of chil­dren in care will be re­turned to their par­ents or fam­ily in three months, she said.

“The big­gest as­sur­ance peo­ple need is that they don’t need to make that de­ci­sion,” said Handy.

“They think they have to have the an­swers be­fore they call.”

In­deed, child abuse is not al­ways ab­so­lutely ob­vi­ous. There are many nu­ances and shades of grey, said Jay Gem­mell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the John Howard So­ci­ety of Ni­a­gara. Leave it to the ex­perts to de­cide. What is clear is this: If a child dis­closes abuse, then their voice needs to be heard.

“If some­one is feel­ing ha­rassed, then they are,” said Gem­mell. “If a kid says it, you re­port it.

“You can change the tra­jec­tory of a child’s life.”

CH­ERYL CLOCK/STAN­DARD STAFF

PECAN — Part­ners to End Child Abuse in Ni­a­gara — is a group of com­mu­nity agen­cies ded­i­cated to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to find help in ad­dress­ing is­sues of child abuse. There are 14 agen­cies in­volved, in­clud­ing clock­wise from left: Janet Handy,...

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