YORK COUNTY, Pa. — People hear about the parents and caregivers accused of child abuse, but what happens to the children involved in those investigations?
Some enter into emergency care and others will be placed into temporary foster homes. Some will get adopted into a forever home. Many of the most impacted children in South Central Pennsylvania receive life changing care from Pressley Ridge in York and Lancaster Counties where staff say there is an urgent need for additional help.
Inside Pressley Ridge off East Market Street in York, each piece of clothing represents a child who is facing all kinds of scary situations. "We definitely get toddlers who have managed to escape their house," Kimberly Miller said. "We don't know their name. We guess their age." As Miller explained, Pressley Ridge also serves the most impacted children.
"We have kids that come in because of domestic violence issues or because their parents are arrested," she said. Miller is a foster care supervisor at Pressley Ridge.
"It's kind of crazy," she said. "I did not come from a social work background. I was a teacher for five years down in Arkansas. Teaching is kind of what propelled me into social work because I only saw the kids in the classroom, but I knew what they were experiencing at home."
"Sometimes, they've been physically, sexually abused," Nicole Mulholland said. "Sometimes, they're adopted from orphanages from different countries, so they went through trauma there." Some children have witnessed murders.
"Some of these kids have experienced such severe trauma that being in a traditional home where a worker is going out once or twice a month is just not what they need," Mulholland said. Those children may be better suited for Pressley Ridge's Community Resident Rehabilitation or CRR. "We average over, oh my goodness, maybe like 20 to 30 referrals a month," she said. "Just for this level of care."
Mulholland oversees the program. She says those children have special behavioral needs. Some are suffering from depression. Others have acted out sexually, destroyed property, set fires, or abused animals or other children.
"It's a foster home, but it's a treatment foster family," she said. "All of our parents are trained. They get trained how to work with kids sexually abused, how to deescalate conflict. They got lots of trauma training. In the state of Pennsylvania, to be a foster parent, you only need six hours of training. Our training is an average of 50. We really take our time and make sure they're ready for these kids."
The end goal is acclimating the child back into the community safely and with the most love. "I care about each and every one of the kids. I want to make sure it's successful," Miller said.
Right now, Pressley Ridge workers say there is an urgent need for foster families and families for the CRR program. Foster parents can be from any race or faith background, married, single or in a partnership, working or retired. Pressley Ridge also welcomes and supports LGBTQ adults who are interested in becoming foster parents.
Pressley Ridge has treatment foster care programs across six different states so the requirements may vary by state, but all Pressley Ridge treatment parents must:
- Meet state, local, and federal clearance standards
- Have reliable transportation
- Have a primary source of income
- Have an adequate bedroom for a child
According to its website, Pressley Ridge’s Treatment Foster Parent Training is nationally-recognized and evidence-based. The program revolves around the importance of a strong relationship between the treatment parent and youth. It also uses a trauma-informed approach to teach parents that behavior can change, and the youth can learn the skills necessary for effective living. This training is free and must be completed prior to becoming a foster parent.
Participants will learn:
- Therapeutic parenting skills
- Trauma-informed child development
- Understanding and changing behavior
- De-escalation and motivation techniques
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving strategies
- CPR and first aid
The Department of Human Services (DHS) encourages all Pennsylvanians to report suspected child abuse or neglect to ChildLine, the commonwealth’s 24/7 hotline for anyone concerned about the safety or well-being of a child. To report a concern, call 1-800-932-0313.
DHS encourages all Pennsylvanians to know the signs of potential child abuse or neglect and make a report to ChildLine if they suspect abuse or neglect. Signs of abuse or neglect can include:
- Numerous and/or unexplained injuries or bruises
- Chronic, pronounced anxiety and expressed feelings of inadequacy
- Flinching or an avoidance to being touched
- Poor impulse control
- Demonstrating abusive behavior or talk
- Cruelty to animals or others
- Fear of parent or caregiver, among others
DHS also encourages parents and families who are struggling to cope during this time of crisis to reach out for help. Anyone struggling with mental health and in need of referrals to helpful programs can call Pennsylvania’s Support & Referral Helpline, which is operated 24/7 by skilled caseworkers who can provide emotional support during this difficult period. The number to call is 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.
Another helpful resource is the 2-1-1 hotline operated by the United Way, which can connect people and families to local resources that can help during the public health crisis.