JFCS webinar gives Pittsburghers tools to protect children from abuse

Education, intervention and communication are key in the effort to protect children from abuse, according to professionals in the region who shared their expertise during a March 27 webinar for clinicians, educators and parents of Pittsburgh organized by JFCS.

Panelists leading the hour-long discussion included Jordan Golin, President and CEO of JFCS; Shira Berkovits, president and CEO of Sacred Spaces, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that partners with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power; Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, director of schools for Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh; and Angelica Joy Miskanin, JFCS psychotherapist.

“We all have a role to play in preventing and responding to abuse,” Golin said.

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For community members, that means following three steps, according to Berkovits. The first step is to “educate yourself,” she said. “Learn to recognize the early signs of abuse, because you might be the only one noticing it.”

The second step, she said, “is to understand and practice speaking and intervening.”

Finally, the third step is to “support our youth-serving organizations in the community by having really robust systems in place to prevent and respond well to abuse if it occurs.”

As important as establishing community safeguards is, prevention and response must also include talking with children, Golin said.

When communicating with young people, it’s essential to steer the conversation away from “good contacts and bad contacts,” Berkovits said. Instead, provide clear rules, such as “the private parts of your body that are covered by a swimsuit should not be touched or shown to others, except for health reasons or if you need to help with bathing”.

Also, when talking with children, use “anatomically correct terms for body parts,” Berkovits said. It is also essential to let children know that they are “responsible for the physical affection they receive”.

Teaching affirmative consent from an early age will help children understand that they have lifelong autonomy over their bodies, she added.

Another thing to keep in mind, Berkovits said, is that secrets between adults and children should never be allowed.

“It should be a very important message in school, in camps, in shuls as well – no one should say to the child: ‘I have a secret to tell you,'” Berkovits noted.

There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy, and it’s something to consider as a child gets older, but no one should try to isolate a child from their family, she said. .

If a child reveals that abuse has taken place, parents should remember to “first and foremost” stay calm, Miskanin said.

“It’s very common and valid for parents to experience a range of emotions which can include feeling shock, anger, betrayal…even doubt,” she said. “But please, I really urge parents to try to remember the importance of staying calm and listening to what the child is telling you. Believe the child, reassure him that he won’t have trouble saying it.

Adults should make sure the child knows the abuse is not their fault and reassure the child that everything will be done to “protect them from further harm”, Miskanin said.

She encouraged parents to report any abuse to ChildLine, a 24/7 resource of the Pennsylvania Department of Social Services. When a call is made or an online report is entered into ChildLine, the system attempts to differentiate between abuse and neglect, said Rebecca Remson, director of development and communications for JFCS, after the program.

“What we may think of as abuse may actually be categorized as neglect,” she said. “Both are tracked, but who handles the complaint and the response time depends on the category.”

Complaints of abuse are handled by child protective services, but complaints of neglect are handled by general protective services, she said. “All complaints are investigated – abuse cases take priority over neglect cases as the child’s life is more at risk.”

Ultimately, if anyone learns of or suspects abuse, “contact Childline immediately at 1-800-932-0313. An investigation will be opened within 24 hours,” Remson said.

Rosenblum praised JFCS for hosting the March 27 webinar and outlined child safety under Jewish law.

There is a “mitzvah” to protect and protect children from abuse, but unfortunately some people mistakenly believe that reporting abuse may violate the prohibition of lashon hara (making derogatory statements), he said. he declares.

“Lashon hara is when you just speak negatively about someone without a purpose,” Rosenblum said. “When the goal is to save and help a vulnerable child from being abused, God forbid, then it all goes out the window. The mitzvah becomes to publicize it as much as possible and to ensure the safety of the community and the child.

Rosenblum told panelists and the 70 households attending the webinar that he remembered attending a lecture almost 40 years ago given by the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, a University of Pittsburgh-trained psychiatrist, author and founder of Gateway Rehab.

At the time, Twerski was “a lone voice” on abuse topics, Rosenblum said. “Fast forward 35-40 years later, we know so much more.”

Despite the progress made over the past decades, “one of the conclusions tonight is that we just have to keep going,” Rosenblum said. “We haven’t resolved all the issues yet.”

Remson thanked community partners including Bnai Emunoh Chabad, Chabad of Squirrel Hill, Congregation Poale Zedeck, Hillel Academy, Keser Torah, Kollel Jewish Learning Center, Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh, Shaare Torah Congregation, Yeshiva Schools and Young Israel of Pittsburgh for “ having approved the event,” and encouraged people to contact JFCS Clinical Director Stefanie Small at [email protected] with any questions. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be contacted at [email protected]

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