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Program seeks to reduce child sexual abuse in Somerset, Cambria counties

Stephen Huba
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A grant-funded program will teach adults and second-graders in Somerset and Cambria counties how to recognize and respond to — and ultimately reduce — the incidence of child sexual abuse.

The Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative will hold a kickoff breakfast at 8 a.m. Friday at the Community Service Room of Allegheny Unlimited Care Providers, 119 Jari Drive, Johnstown.

The three-year program, funded by a $370,000, three-year state grant to Somerset County commissioners, will seek to reduce the rates of child sexual abuse by training the general public, all second-graders in Somerset and Cambria counties, and “at-risk” parents identified by both counties’ Departments of Children and Youth Services, according to a news release.

“Somerset County is happy to join forces with Cambria County in this important initiative,” said Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker. “Children and families in both counties experience child sexual abuse as a personal issue, and the time has come for us to be proactive and deliberate in our efforts to keep our most valuable asset, our children, as safe as possible.”

The program will include age-appropriate child abuse education in every second-grade classroom in Somerset and Cambria counties. The in-school component will focus on appropriate touching, identifying trusted adults and other simple topics, the news release said.

Every school district in Somerset and Cambria counties has signed on to the Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative, and Victim Services Inc. educators will visit every district over the course of the program.

Businesses and organizations can sign up to host free, in-person workshops, and the program will also offer individual online training.

“Child sexual abuse is a chronic, underreported crime. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday,” said Shiryl Barto, initiative coordinator. “Our region is not spared these horrific events, and we must move forward taking action to protect children and adolescents.”

Barto noted that most victims are abused by a family member or a person the family trusts. She said community participation is critical if the program is to succeed.

The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State University, using part of the $60 million settlement the university reached with the NCAA after the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.

For more information, to get a link to the online training or to schedule a workshop, contact Barto via email at [email protected] or by calling 814-445-1676 or 814-243-2981.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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