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Chester County Press

Editorial: ‘The most important indicator of a civilized society’

04/18/2023 04:16PM ● By Richard Gaw

On April 3, in honor of April being designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, State Rep. Christina Sappey committed an act of pure selflessness and grace, not only for the people of the 158th District that she represents but for all children in Pennsylvania.

Sappey introduced HB 813 in the House to codify the Pennsylvania Office of Child Advocate as a permanent agency and create a permanent Office of the Child Advocate in Pennsylvania and enable it to remain throughout changes in administrations.

It is a progressive measure that not only brings the safety of our children into better focus, but shines a light on the staunch reluctance of the commonwealth to create this office sooner.

Although the establishment of this office has been recommended by grand juries, advocates, task forces and supported by study after study for the last 20 years -- Pennsylvania has not yet created an independent office to advocate on behalf of its children.

Colliding with the push for this legislation are these indisputable facts:

  • 34 other states have created their own Office of the Child Advocate.
  • The bill has received the support of 20 Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, as well as the Joint State Government Commission Advisory Committee on Services to Children and Youth and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force.
  • Not one Republican lawmaker in the Pennsylvania House has registered support of HB 813.
  • In 2021, Pennsylvania found over 5,000 cases of child abuse including nearly 60 children who died as a result.

The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) was created, and continues to operate, through an executive order to protect our children from abuse and exploitation. OCA provides a direct line to assistance for our most vulnerable children, serving a critical role in our government to ensure that vulnerable children have a voice.

“One thing that’s done within these offices in other states is there’s a direct phone line, a direct email line, a way for youth to get in touch with an advocate that is not working within the system that they are feeling they need to speak out against,” said Maryann McEvoy, Commonwealth Child Advocate.

“When we understand what adverse childhood experiences are, the lasting trauma they create and how the impacts of trauma are passed from one generation to the next, we can indeed break the cycle and change the trajectory of a life,” said Sappey. “There is nothing more important than ensuring a safe, healthy and stable environment for our children to grow up in.

“I believe we have a moral responsibility to not only raise awareness of but to take action to ensure that comprehensive mental health resources are available to our children and youth. The most important indicator of a civilized society is what we do for those who cannot protect themselves.”

We applaud State Sen. Sappey on the work she is doing -- not in the name of furthering her own political career or advancing her party’s agenda -- but for the children of Pennsylvania whose safety and lives will be protected by the passage of this bill, now and for generations to come.