A study presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics in late 2021 found that physical abuse of school-aged children tripled during the early months of the pandemic. This coincided with stay-at-home orders issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the Administration of Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2018, 16 percent of children who were abused experienced more than one kind of maltreatment that can have lifelong and even intergenerational impacts.

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and locally, BestSelf Behavioral Health urges anyone who suspects that a child is in immediate and serious danger to call 911. Help is also available at the NYS Child Abuse Hotline at 800-342-3720, the NYS Mandated Reporter Hotline at 800-635-1522, and the Trafficking and Exploitation Hotline at 315-218-1966.

BestSelf also wants people to be aware of the Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf (CAC), explaining that CACs provide community-based, child friendly, multidisciplinary services for children and families affected by child sexual abuse or physical abuse. Child Protective Services caseworkers, law enforcement, district attorneys, victim advocates, and medical and mental health professionals provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to victims and their caregivers in one location that is warm, welcoming, home-like, and child-friendly. Before the CAC existed, children had to repeat their stories over and over again, and were questioned in ER’s, police stations, schools, doctor’s offices, and were re-traumatized each time they had to repeat the stories of the trauma they experienced.

The interview room at the CAC is designed to help children feel safe and comfortable in order to enhance the effectiveness of the interview process. Interviews are conducted using state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and a trained child forensic interviewer, while other team members observe in an adjoining room via a closed-circuit television system. Victim advocacy and mental health services are also available on-site, at no cost to families. Referrals to other community providers are made depending on the needs of each family. The CAC also sponsors and offers training to professionals and community members to learn best practice methods to recognize, respond to, and prevent child abuse.

It is important to know that any reasonable suspicion of child abuse requires reporting. In doing so, it is important to provide a complete, honest account of what you observed, explaining what led you to suspect abuse or neglect. Those who spend considerable time around children, including parents, educators, and health care workers, are urged to take child abuse training with the utmost seriousness. All people concerned by child abuse can access an assortment of resources about identifying child abuse and neglect. Information, and links for this information, can be found at www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/identifying. For a list of Child Advocacy Centers located in your area, visit https://ocfs.ny.gov/directories/cac.php.

Learn more about the BestSelf Child Advocacy Center, located at 556 Franklin Street, Buffalo, NY 14202 at https://cacbuffalo.org. Call 716-886-5437 or email cacinfo@bestselfwny.org.