PITTSFIELD -- When it comes to protecting children from abuse, who protects them better than anyone?
Randy Kinnas, the executive director and CEO of the Pittsfield Family YMCA, poses the question and offers the answer: "Adults do. Adults are the ones who need to look out for children, and make sure they are safe."
As someone in charge of an organization that sponsors countless year-round recreational activities for children, Kinnas said it was important that a wide-ranging program be put in place to serve as an educational tool about child sexual abuse and prevention for families and for those who work directly with Berkshire County kids at places like the YMCA.
Kinnas said the idea for this kind of program had long been on his mind, but it did not become a reality until after child protection was named a main focal point by the greater YMCAs of Massachusetts.
As a result, the Berkshire County Child Protection Committee was born, a partnership between nine area community organizations that work with children. Still in its early stages, the committee’s first action was to draft an eight-point pledge that asks parents, as well as staff and volunteers at the various programs like The Brien Center and the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield, to follow specific guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in their care.
The separate pledges for parents and program staff members have
Since the initiative is in its early stages, Kelly Marion, the CEO of the Gladys Brigham Community Center, said her organization has not yet started circulating the pledge, but said it’s important that parents know what to look out for when they drop off their children at events and activities.
Marion said all staff members at the center are given background checks and proper child care training, but added it was the smaller organizations that could really benefit from something like the committee’s guidelines.
"Anything we can do to protect children is a good thing," Marion said. "It’s not too much to ask to get people to ask, ‘Is my child safe?’ "
The committee will eventually sponsor free training sessions for staff and volunteers at member organizations to be run by the Department of Children and Families, Kinnas added.
"We haven’t really had this kind of program before in the area, but with child protection a major issue in the news on a national level almost every day, people need to know that it is an adult responsibility to protect children," Kinnas said.
It’s a national issue that has made headlines in recent years due to cases like the scandal surrounding former Penn State University assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted as a serial child molester on Oct. 9.
According to national statistics from the nonprofit, Child help, a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, and abuse occurs across the board at all socioeconomic levels. Sexual abuse makes up 9.2 percent of child abuse cases, while neglect is the most common form, clocking in at 78.3 percent, according to Child help’s website.
"It’s so important to have this initiative," said Christa Collier, the program director of Berkshire County Kids’ Place in Pittsfield. "Our agency works with child abuse victims, and to now have this resource that results from all of these agencies coming together is important for creating greater awareness of child sexual abuse prevention."
For more information on the Child Abuse Protection Committee, call the Pittsfield Family YMCA at 413-499-7650, ext. 12.