Crime Victims’ Center, DA’s office receive major grant to battle child abuse

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The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc. (“CVC”) and the Chester County District Attorney’s Office have partnered to earn a major grant to combat child sexual abuse through education programs.

The Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative (the “SHC Initiative”) is a three-year program expected to reduce rates of child sexual abuse.

The program will educate the community at large, second grade students, and at-risk parents who have been identified through the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Family. The program is the first of its kind to tackle child sex abuse in such a comprehensive manner. The grant is funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State University. CVC will be responsible for all program implementation.

“Child predators target innocent and vulnerable victims,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said in a statement. “Children often do not feel like they can come forward when they are being assaulted. The SHC Initiative will teach children and adults how to begin an open dialogue  about identifying signs of abuse and how to report the abuse. The recent Larry Nassar case that rocked the U.S. gymnastics community is a prime example of the type of crimes that this program attempts to prevent. Chester County is at the forefront of the fight against child sexual abuse.”

Through the SHC Initiative, CVC will offer free, two hour in-person workshops and online trainings to adults in the community. The training includes compelling stories from experts and survivors about the importance of talking to kids early and often. These trainings equip the community with the knowledge to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

The SHC Initiative also will bring age-appropriate child abuse education to every second grade classroom in Chester County. Trained CVC facilitators will appear in person to talk with kids about appropriate touching, whom the kids can talk to about issues, and other simple topics.

Deborah Ryan, a former Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Child Abuse Unit at the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, is the CVC County Coordinator in charge of the SHC Initiative.

“This program will enable us to provide both children and adults the vital education necessary to stop child sexual abuse,” Ryan said. “Child sexual abuse is a chronic, underreported crime. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. As many as 90% of children are abused by either a family member or by someone a family trusts. It occurs in all populations, at all socioeconomic and educational levels, and across all racial and cultural groups. Most children do not report the abuse because they are scared, ashamed, confused or do not even know the conduct is wrong. Kids are often told to keep the abuse a secret and then suffer in silence for years. The consequences are often life-altering. Many survivors report excessive substance abuse, as well as psychological, emotional, social and physical problems that may last throughout adulthood. These programs will have a huge impact in protecting our children.”

Chester County takes a multi-disciplinary approach to combatting child abuse. The CVC, Chester County Commissioners, Chester County District Attorney’s Office, Chester County Children’s Advocacy Center, Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Family, Chester County School Superintendents, and other community partners work together to ensure that the community is armed with the tools necessary to protect our children. Every school district in Chester County has signed on to the SHC Initiative, recognizing its importance.

“This is a nationwide problem where adults need to take action to protect our most vulnerable population,” said Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Superintendent John Sanville. “Chester County has seen a significant increase in child abuse reports over the past six years. Our law enforcement has done a tremendous job in investigating and prosecuting these cases. This training will help prevent the abuse in the first place. We are optimistic that these programs will make a difference and help our children.”

For more information on the Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative or to schedule free in-person or online workshops please contact Deborah Ryan at debr@cvcofcc.org or (610) 692- 1926 ext. 220.

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