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The Children's Advocacy Center is a child-friendly facility for children ages 3 to 18 who disclose child abuse.

One day in high school physical education class, a student named Sara disclosed to her teacher that she was sexually abused when she was 4 years old. She told the story of her perpetrator—her 16-year-old cousin who babysat her that summer. Fortunately for Sara, her P.E. teacher took this very seriously, and wasted no time reporting the child abuse allegations. Sara shared that she still suffer the symptoms of that summer, which include flashbacks, alcohol dependency, cutting, anxiety, fear and suicidal thoughts. But what would have happened to Sara without her teacher’s intervention?

Sara’s story is just one of the many that take place right here in our community. The statistics are alarming. Approximately 3.3 million reports of child abuse occur every year, affecting 6 million children.

An estimated 899,000 are determined to be victims of child abuse or neglect, and one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old. There is a need for intervention, and here’s where we can begin.

Teachers develop important relationships with their students, and can be the first to observe changes that could be critical to a child’s well-being.

The importance of this came to light in 2012, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law an amendment to the public school code that mandated all school entities and independent contractors of school entities provide all employees, including substitute teachers, with education and training about mandated reporting of child abuse.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Lawrence County, an affiliate of Jameson Health System, recognizes that mandated reporters, including teachers, are the best source of child abuse reports.

Without the frontline work of teachers and other professionals who work directly with children, the Children’s Advocacy Center would be unable to coordinate the efforts of child protective services and law enforcement to effectively respond to child abuse victims. It is critically important to intervene early and with skilled professionals to reduce the trauma of children disclosing abuse.

The Children’s Advocacy Center is a child-friendly facility for children ages 3 to 18 who disclose child abuse. A trained forensic interviewer conducts an in-depth interview with the child for law enforcement and child protective services investigators. The interviewers are specially trained to conduct a developmentally and legally sound interview of children.

The center also offers medical services to child sexual abuse victims by specially trained medical personnel, called sexual assault forensic examiners nurses. These SAFE nurses provide medical exams to ensure the health and well-being of each child, and to provide each child with the knowledge that their bodies are OK. Once the investigative services are completed, non-offending family members are given information and referral for counseling and therapeutic services.

Sue Ascione is director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, an affiliate of Jameson Health System.