Protect Kids from Abuse by Dr. David Turkewitz

Protect Kids from Abuse by Dr. David Turkewitz

Pennsylvania’s children, including children who have been abused or victimized by sexual violence, desperately require your action on their behalf.

There are no longer any controversies regarding the long-term consequences seen when a child experiences trauma or adverse experiences, especially those born out of acts of violence. The consequences include elevated risk of school failure, likelihood of violent acts perpetrated on others, and increased likelihood of successful transition to workplace, social and parenting responsibilities of adulthood. Ultimately, the consequences are both human and fiscal, and the effects ripple throughout all of society impacting our schools, workforce and state spending for human services and incarceration.

This is not just a statement about other people’s children. This means your children, too. All children deserve assurances that when voters go to the polls on Nov. 2, they will be informed about the specific strategies that our next governor will pursue and invest in to prevent child and sexual abuse, strengthen families and achieve targeted child welfare reforms. This is not liberalism and spending gone wild. This is absolutely fiscally sound, and there is no doubt that investing in prevention saves money almost immediately and continues to provide payback for taxpayers.

Voters need some facts to determine how both candidates see abuse prevention and the protection of children as central, not some intangible disconnected issue, to this state’s efforts to improve the quality of our schools, the safety of our communities and our ability to be competitive.

In 2009, more than 3,000 children were direct child abuse victims, more than 120,000 children received child welfare services, and scores more children experienced domestic or sexual violence that falls outside of the state’s definition of child abuse. In addition, over the last eight years more than 350 Pennsylvania children have died as a result of child abuse. The numbers are sickening – 350 people dead.

This is not an abstract number. This is not referring to things that happen only outside York County. I was in the Emergency Department when the beaten and near dead child, Darisabel Baez, arrived at York Hospital. Darisabel died soon afterwards. If you saw Darisabel’s little body you would want to throw up in disgust. And Darisabel is just one. I am one doctor who has evaluated about 2,000 children for sexual or physical abuse in my career. Just one doctor has seen this much.

We all must be advocates for children. There is no positive future without our children having the opportunity to grow up in environments that are nurturing and protective against abuse. It is essential for all of us to ask our candidates for office to answer, at a minimum, the following questions:

1. What three specific fiscal or policy strategies would they enlist to prevent child abuse and build the confidence and competence of parents?

2. How would you increase the availability of and access to high-quality voluntary home visiting services like those offered through the Nurse Family Partnership, improving both maternal and child outcomes?

3. How will you ensure that all mandated reporters of suspected child abuse are properly trained while also emphasizing that protecting children is a shared community responsibility extending beyond such reporters?

4. Will you direct that increasingly limited public child welfare dollars are driven to the counties to pay for, first and foremost, prevention-focused services that keep children safe at home, reduce the trauma a child experiences and work to avoid more costly out-of-home placements?

5. Are you ready to require greater accountability and transparency of the child welfare system – a system that last year spent at least $1.5 billion to prevent and treat abuse – by creating an independent state level Child Protection Ombudsperson?

The challenges facing abused and victimized children are formidable. The path to healing and restored opportunity for every child and our society rests, in part, with the decisions of Pennsylvania’s next governor. The choice of our next governor rests with us.

To learn more about how you can help efforts to prevent child abuse and to raise child protection issues with the candidates visit:,, and

I do want to acknowledge the contributions to this column by two of my colleagues, Delilah Rumburg, CEO, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape/National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and Cathleen Palm, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Protect our Children Committee. These two individuals and their respective organizations work tirelessly on behalf of children and victims of sexual assault.

Dr. David Turkewitz is chairman of pediatrics at York Hospital, board member of Pennsylvania Prevent Child Abuse, and a member of the York Hospital Sexual Abuse Forensic Examiner Team.

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