Nearly five children die every day from neglect and abuse, according to the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center.
“It’s a big secret for a lot of children, so they don’t tell anybody,” said Colleen Merced, the center's executive director. A lot of times, people just don’t notice. They’re not in tune.”
Advocates hope education will encourage others to speak out.
Those at the Child Advocacy Centers in Onondaga and Oneida counties are busy raising awareness, especially during Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In 2019, Oneida had about 900 cases, and Onondaga had more than 1,500.
“We have seen a general increase over the last four or five years,” said Derrick O’Meara, the Oneida County Child Advocacy Center director. “We have characterized that as basically not so much as more is occurring, but more is being recorded.”
“People are more aware,” said Merced. “We’ve done a really good job with outreach. I think more children are coming forward.”
But during the coronavirus pandemic, it seems more are stepping back.
“Since they closed schools on March 16, we saw cases of child sex abuse reported to us drop by 30 percent,” said O’Meara. “That unfortunately is because we’ve taken that safe place away at school where children see counselors and teachers and school staff every day. They report 1 out of every 5 reports we see across the state.”
“Our fear and what we’ve seen before is that the cases will double or triple,” said Merced.
The centers’ directors are also concerned about the newest trends.
“We’re seeing more child-on-child type predation where children are being sexualized by a lot of things that are out there that they’ve exposed to on the internet,” said O’Meara.
“One of the biggest trends we’ve seen is human trafficking,” said Merced. “We started with four cases and now we average about 120, 130 cases a year.”
The directors are reminding residents to be alert, and if you see something, say something.
“You hear all of our leaders talking about 'we need to take care of our communities and community members,'” said O’Meara. “We need to take care of our children and pay attention to them too.”
Because that one call could save a child.
The New York State Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-342-3720.
The Mandated Reporter Hotline is 800-635-1522.
You can also help raise awareness and “Go Blue 4 Kids” through multiple events with the McMahon Ryan Advocacy Center. You can “Blow Away” with pinwheels, donate to “100 Holes 4 Kids” golfers or participate in the virtual “Step Up 4 Kids 5K and Kids’ Fun Run” on April 26th.