WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – The problem of child abuse seems to be getting worse before it gets better. The latest data in 2016 for Pennsylvania shows nearly 4,600 substantiated cases of abuse. That’s up by nearly 300 cases from the previous year. 

Too often we witness that abuse in public and don’t know what to do about it. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller checked out a program on Thursday that aims to stop child abuse and neglect in its tracks. 

Community members are getting an education on how to intervene when they sense a child is unsafe. Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance Program Director Beth Bitler conducts the three hour free workshop called the “Front Porch Project”. It arms participants with knowledge to diffuse a tense situation between an adult who appears abusive or neglectful toward a child. “We don’t want people to just learn about it. We want them to make a commitment to doing something when they leave here,” said Ms. Bitler.

The United Way of Wyoming Valley partnered with Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance and NAACP of Wilkes-Barre for this presentation at Wilkes University. “You don’t have to be a social worker to be involved. You can just be an interested individual. You see something at the grocery story or at the church, you can be involved and diffuse the situation,” said NAACP Wilkes-Barre President Guerline L. Laurore.  

Even though the presentation is rather simple, the message is still powerful. Bitler says sometimes even a small action can make a big difference. Something as simple as a gesture of kindness can help deescalate a tense situation between parent and child. “Parents are so stressed and overwhelmed and so how can just a smile, how can an offer of help, you know, I’ll put your stuff in the car for you while you get your child in the car seat or something like that,” said Ms. Bitler.

Participants leave the workshop motivated to be part of the solution. Wilkes-Barre Area School Board Director Melissa Patla said, “I would definitely get involved. It would give me a better aspect of how to deal with different scenarios.”

Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance has been doing the Front Porch Project for six years. Organizers say before the workshop, an average of only about 35 percent of participants said they’d intervene in an abusive situation often or very often. That number jumps to 85 percent on average after completing the workshop.