August 15, 2018

Although the grand jury report’s findings have been speculated upon for months, the details it reveals of systemic and widespread sexual abuse of children by priests – and the cover-up of that abuse – in six dioceses in Pennsylvania are shocking and deeply offensive.
Childhood should be a time of innocence. Those who perpetrated these crimes were supposed to be pillars of goodness, kindness, mercy, and trust. Instead, they were pedophiles, predators, and thieves – stealing the precious wonder of our children – something that can never be returned.
There are lessons in this report for members of every faith and those who hold no religious beliefs. Chief among them is holding ourselves and others accountable to follow the safeguards lawmakers enacted after the Sandusky scandal in the form of amendments to our state’s Child Protective Services Law. Adults who care for our children must be vetted through background and criminal history checks, and obtain all required state and federal child abuse clearances. Organizations and institutions must have strong policies and practices that prohibit one adult with one child and rather must embrace a “two-deep leadership” philosophy. Finally, all staff and volunteers must have comprehensive training on child abuse recognition and reporting at the point of hire and ongoing through professional development opportunities. Parents must not be passive and assume those professionals who interact with their children are “safe.” They must take it upon themselves to ask to see the clearances and evidence that policies for maximum child protection are in place. Be engaged. Be proactive. Be vigilant. Your children’s innocence and safety demand nothing less.
The sad reality is that child abuse touches every community in Pennsylvania. And, as documented in the most recent PA Dept. of Human Services Child Protective Services Annual Report, child sexual abuse is involved in nearly half of the substantiated cases of child abuse in our state. Caseworkers documented more than 3,400 cases of child sexual abuse in 2017 alone.
It’s not just happening in Catholic parishes. Child sexual abuse can and does happen anywhere.
As community members, we each have a role to play in making sure that kids are safe. When children tell you they are being mistreated, believe them. When something strikes you as odd about how a child is being treated, don’t dismiss the hunch or your gut feeling. Make a report to ChildLine by calling 800-932-0313. Last year, 8,482 permissive reporters – average Pennsylvanians, not mandated reporters, made a report. We know that those folks made the difference in saving the lives of some of the 88 children who nearly died of abuse. Forty other abused kids were not so fortunate. They died from maltreatment.
I also encourage you to take part in an awareness program like the Front Porch Project® offered by PFSA. Through interactive discussions and real-life scenarios, the Front Porch Project® teaches neighbors how to defuse potentially dangerous situations involving children.
To deepen your understanding of how to recognize and report suspected child abuse, consider taking a Mandated Reporter Training (MRT) course. Mandated reporters are professionals and volunteers who are required under state law to report suspected abuse. PFSA offers comprehensive and convenient bilingual MRT classes on-line, on-demand, or in-person.
If you’re a parent or a child’s caregiver who struggles with substance use disorder, take an important step in your recovery by joining our “Families in Recovery” initiative. This specialized parenting program helps moms and dads balance the demands of their recovery from addiction with the responsibilities of safe parenting. The goal is to keep kids safe.
The worst thing we can do upon reading this report is to ignore it. We’re out of patience. We’re out of forgiveness. And we’re out of time. Make child protection a paramount priority in this commonwealth. Right now. Because every child needs a champion and it can be YOU.

Angela M. Liddle, MPA
President and CEO
Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance
2000 Linglestown Road, Suite 301
Harrisburg, PA 17110
717-238-0937
aliddle@pa-fsa.org

July 26, 2018

I treated myself recently to one of my favorite slices of Americana; taking in a film at an old-fashioned downtown movie theater complete with the original marquee and exactly one ticket booth. I was thrilled at how bustling things were in this small town on a Friday night. It was challenging to find parking and the line for the movie practically embraced the block. In a time when nearly every move we make is orchestrated with computerized synchronization, it was refreshing to experience a movie starting almost 20 minutes late, not because of extended trailers, but because it took longer just to seat the crowd. Even more affirming was knowing the folks were queued up to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, the documentary about Fred Rogers.
It’s hard to grasp that a chubby kid, born into affluence and bullied throughout childhood, could become a national symbol of kindness and an advocate for all children. I grew up watching Mister Rogers hand-in-hand with many of the violent cartoons of that era that he rallied against. My father was the antithesis of Fred Rogers and I remember wondering why my dad was not so gentle. As an only child surrounded most often by adults much older than I, play was a very small sliver of my childhood pie. By age 10, I knew about the stock market and checkbooks but little about playing and relating to other kids. Children seemed sort of foreign to me until I became a mother. Then, those two little bundles of pink joy never once felt foreign – at least, not until they became teenagers.
Like many mothers, I was determined to approach my role with perfection – making sure their clothes were clean and the colors matched; creating home-cooked meals; writing little notes they’d find in their school lunches; being a Girl Scout leader and softball mom, and on it went. Reflecting on those days, I realize I gave my daughters lots of things they needed from a mother, but I never shared the experience of play in a Mr. Rogers sort of way.
We rarely get a redo with the important things in life, but sometimes we get a chance to learn the lesson we need. Such a moment came this summer in the person of a red-haired, over-the-top, wicked-smart, nine-year-old boy named Brody. We are connected to a uniquely-blended family that is both too complicated and yet simplistic to explain. Each year, we share space for extended periods of time. I’ve always liked this kid. Last summer, we had a great conversation about his thoughts on creationism versus evolution and I remain in awe at the speed of his fingers with the game Minecraft. But something was different this summer. Maybe I yearned for the pieces of childhood I had missed. Maybe I was missing my own granddaughter, Hailey, whom I don’t get to see very often. Whatever the reason, this summer I really connected with Brody, and this connection occurred around his world – the world of play.
We played air hockey, Monopoly, and backyard badminton in record heat. Each day, I gave Brody one riddle to solve and he challenged me with a knock-knock joke. We went camping – in a tent – in the rain. And when it came time for Brody to head home hundreds of miles away, I sobbed and sobbed. I chalked up the emotion to age and missing my granddaughter. But that wasn’t it at all.
As I watched the Fred Rogers documentary, I had an epiphany. I finally saw why Fred was so very good with children and I understood at last why my experience with Brody this summer was so transformative. Like Fred Rogers, I gave Brody what he and I needed most – the time simply and joyfully to P L A Y. Mr. Rogers gave children the greatest gift possible; someone to listen to them, laugh with them, calm their fears, and play beside them. Fred Rogers embodied what it means to be a friend and by extension, a good neighbor. This gentle and caring man developed a recipe for childhood joy.
Go see this film and find time to play with the children you love or the child within you. It’s really very simple.

Angela M. Liddle, MPA
President and CEO
Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance
2000 Linglestown Road
Suite 301
Harrisburg, PA 17110

717-238-0937