Child Abuse Prevention Month flags

Mark Hofmann | Herald-Standard

This 2019 file photo shows the display from Fayette County Children and Youth Services to bring awareness during April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Fayette County CYS is taking steps to keep their staff safe while continuing to protect the welfare of children.

“Unfortunately, many people forget that we are still responding the same as other first responders,” said Gina D’Auria, Fayette County CYS administrator. “Please know that we are still operating 24/7 to meet the needs of families in the county.”

John Fritts, FCCYS deputy administrator, said while their building is open for mail and phone calls, only essential management and support staff are in the office. The agency’s entire casework staff is working remotely from home.

“We were fortunate in the sense that all management and casework staff were already equipped for remote capabilities with two computers, one for mobile use and one for office use as reports of child endangerment is handled by phone,” Fritts said, adding that the caseworkers only go to the FCCYS building to retrieve vehicles and materials. “In addition each caseworker has agency-issued cellphones with hot spots which allows for internet connection.”

“Our staff has been amazing thorough everything,” D’Auria said. “They do not hesitate to continue to serve our families.”

Fritts said the courts are still handling emergency hearings via teleconferencing, and visitation between children in care and their families have been done through Skype or Facetime.

“We have been surprised to this point how well it has worked,” Fritts said, adding that there have been positive reports back that contacts have been very beneficial and productive as more time has been spent conversing with family and children when there’s no travel involved.

“With the stay-at-home order, we are making every effort to reach out to families more frequently to assure they are handling things as well as they can,” D’Auria said.

Fritts said caseworkers still have to physically respond to immediate crisis reports, and have put safety measures in place that include utilizing pre-screening questions regarding COVID-19 before entering homes. Workers also wear protective equipment like masks and gloves.

“To date, we have been lucky that we have had no positive testing; however, we did have a couple scares that resulted in negative tests,” D’Auria said. “We are taking every possible precaution as recommended by the (state Department of Health) and the (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).”

With more people at home and schools closed, Fritts said the number of reports of potential abuse have declined.

“We usually average about 500 calls per month,” Fritts said earlier this month. “If the last few weeks numbers hold then we are looking at least a 25% to 30% decrease in reports.”

Fritts said the decline is a concern, noting potentially vulnerable children have limited or no access to mandated reporters like teachers.

“With April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, we need family members and friends to be observant and to make reports when a child’s safety is in question,” Fritts said. “Our agency is still taking calls as usual, and we would strongly encourage the community to utilize us a resource and to contact us with any questions.”

Anyone can report abuse on the FCCYS website at www.fayettecountypa.org/167/Children-Youth-Services or by calling 724-430-1283 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or 724-430-1287 if it’s an emergency outside business hours.

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