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Harrisburg, Pa. -- While federal and state governments scramble to figure out aid and resources for those affected by COVID-19, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Senator Bob Casey have begin advocating for emergency funding for child protective services and nonprofits that help new parents.

The pair is pushing to give an additional $1.5 billion in funding to child abuse prevention and response efforts under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1988 provides financial assistance for the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect through programming, and to establish a National Center on Child Abuse.

Since Pennsylvania schools closed, ChildLine, the Commonwealth's child abuse hotline, has received half the number of calls that it usually receives in April. According to a 2018 report, 84% of abuse reports came from mandated reporters, primarily school employees. During the 2008 recession, as people dealt with financial desperation, pediatricians reported a noticeable increase in infant injuries and deaths.

Currently, 20% of Pennsylvanians are out of work, dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety related to COVID-19.

"As our office works around the clock to protect Pennsylvanians during this crisis, we need the public to help out. Children are physically disconnected from mandated reporters, including teachers, coaches, and school staff,” said Shapiro. “I urge all Pennsylvanians to stay vigilant for signs of abuse happening to the children in their lives. It’s critical that we protect the vulnerable members of our communities during this crisis."

“We can’t forget that some of the victims aren’t in the hospital with COVID-19, but in their homes cowering from the anger and rage of abusers from which they cannot escape,” added U.S. Senator Bob Casey. “It is imperative that each of us look out for the most vulnerable among us, the children whose families have been shaken by the pandemic and who themselves are suffering at the hands of others because of it.”

“During this societal upheaval and economic downturn, children are at their greatest risk for abuse and neglect,” said Dr. Philip Scribano, Section Chief of Safe Place: Center for Child Protection and Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “With the eyes and ears of our mandated reporter workforce significantly affected by physical distancing, it has only compounded these risks. We need to galvanize our efforts to support families with the basic necessities in hopes of mitigating these risks. And, as our Commonwealth begins to reopen, our vigilance in identifying and serving those children at risk will be paramount to avoid a secondary epidemic of abuse and neglect from this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Citizens are urged to remain vigilant and report suspected child abuse cases.

Concerned neighbors, community leaders, teachers, family members, and friends can call Safe2Say Something, the Office of Attorney General's program that accepts anonymous tips regarding cyberbulling, self-harm, and abuse by calling 1-844-SAF2SAY (723-2729) or through the Safe2Say app.

Citizens can also call Pennsylvania ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 to report suspected child abuse. The Attorney General's office also has a Child Predator Hotline to report online sexual exploitation children at 800-385-1044.

“I am urging everyone in the Commonwealth; if you see child abuse or neglect, report it,” said Shapiro. “By banding together we will beat the COVID-19 crisis, but while we are doing that, we need to protect children in our communities. When you see children in your neighborhood, be aware of signs of abuse and don’t hesitate to report.”

Signs of potential abuse or neglect can include:

  • Numerous and/or unexplained injuries or bruises
  • Chronic anxiety and feelings of inadequacy
  • Flinching or an avoidance to being touched
  • Poor impulse control
  • Demonstrating abusive behavior or language
  • Cruelty to animals or other people
  • Fear of a parent or caregiver
  • Changes in a child's behavior or mood
  • Noticeable changes in a child's weight or appearance that could suggest concerns with care
  • Significant changes in participation and engagement in activities

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This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.