Daily Times (Primos, PA)
Delco marks child abuse awareness month
MEDIA » Members of Prevent Child Abuse PA joined Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer on the county courthouse lawn Wednesday morning to recognize April as Child Abuse Protection Month.
“When I became district attorney a year ago, one of my priorities was to make sure that we better and more fully and holistically prosecute the abuse of our children,” said Stollsteimer. “We have created the first Delaware County Child Abuse and Exploitation Task Force in our office, we have recruited some of the best and brightest municipal police officers from around the county, we have provided training to them, and we are fighting every day to try to make sure that we bring anybody who commits abuse of our children to justice.”
Stollsteimer added that a central partner in that fight has been the Family Support Line, which runs the Delaware County Children’s Advocacy Center aimed at supporting victims of child abuse and their families.
“They are the people who I think have one of the most difficult jobs in law enforcement,” said Stollsteimer. “They have to interview these children and do it properly so that we can gather the kind of evidence it takes to put these predators in jail where they belong.”
The event was staged in front of a “pinwheel garden” representing approximately 500 families served by FSL in 2019, but Executive Director Sarah Gibbons said there has been “a huge increase” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even though the numbers of child abuse have dipped across the country and even within our surrounding counties, in Delaware County we’ve seen an increase,” said Gibbons. “I give kudos to (Children and Youth Services), law enforcement and the D.A.’s Office for their great diligence in recognizing, identifying and responding to reports around child abuse.”
But Gibbons said there is still much work to be done. For every one child identified, she said, two more are not reported. Of the children served by FSL, she said about two-thirds are girls and 65 percent are minorities. They come from all municipalities in county, she said, indicating child abuse knows no geographical or socioeconomic boundaries.
Gibbons and others at Wednesday’s event strongly urged parents to monitor their children’s online activity. She said the demand for child pornography and child sex trafficking has skyrocketed in the last year, and some 500,000 child predators are thought to be online at any given time.
Dr. Stephanie Tanner Walsh, a pediatrician with Crozer Health, noted that shutdowns associated with coronavirus have resulted in job losses, financial issues and higher stress being placed on families, which can lead to abusive situations.
About 20 percent of child abuse reports typically come from schools that are only now reopening, she said. And while the amount of abuse her office has seen is down, the severity of those cases that do come into emergency rooms are worse, according to Walsh.
Walsh’s comments echoed Stollsteimer’s fears that child abuse has been quietly going on during the COVID-19 pandemic because children do not have the opportunity to get out of the home and away from their abusers. He indicated that Gibbons told him requests for forensic interviews have already gone up “dramatically” this year and he believes that will only continue as the pandemic wears on.
Delaware County Councilwoman
Christine Reuther said more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child abuse protection agencies each year involving approximately 6.6 million children in the United States – and those are just the ones that are reported.
“Child abuse can have long-term psychological, emotional and physical effects that have a lasting consequence for the victims of abuse and their families,” said Reuther. “Every child – every child – has the right to lead a safe and healthy life free from abuse and neglect.”
Reuther – who serves on the board of Child Guidance Resource Centers working with victims of child abuse and whose husband is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and child abuse expert – said it is the collaborative effort of not only those in their respective child care fields to report abuse, but for everyone to speak up when they see something.
Also honored during the event was pediatric specialist Dr. Albert Lehmicke, who died in August 2020 at the age of 73 after a 38year career serving children and advocating for victims of abuse.
His wife, Lorraine Lehmicke, recounted her husband’s long and storied career doing intake evaluations and physical examinations of abused children and testifying on their behalf in the county courthouse.
“He gave so much of his time and his heart and his soul to the children of this county,” she said. “I’m so proud of him and everything he contributed over those 38 years. …There are hundreds of cases and hundreds of children that were helped on his behalf and the behalf of Children and Youth Services of Delaware County.”
The event came about three weeks after Delaware County President Judge Kevin F. Kelly ordered the county’s Juvenile Detention Center in Lima closed following allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse of children at the hands of staff there.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro has launched an investigation along with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, but neither had an update on those investigations Wednesday.
Media attorney Dan McGarrigle and Philadelphia attorney Brian D. Kent have filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two unnamed former residents at the facility, and McGarrigle previously indicated more clients are likely to join them in the near future.