"It takes a community to keep our children safe" was the resounding message at a Child Abuse Prevention Forum Wednesday, April 25, at Searsport District Middle and High School. About 30 area residents attended.

Panelists — Helen Rogers of Broadreach, Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton, Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Chris Downing, and Nicole Fallon of New Hope for Women — took turns describing the agencies they represent and strategies in place to help children.

As part of her responsibilities, Rogers teaches parents to become more effective role models. She also helps parents understand how to manage stress and become more resilient, while acquainting them with the network of support and family services available.

The most commonly reported form of abuse, Rogers said, is neglect — failure to provide basic needs, including food and shelter. Teachers, caseworkers, childcare providers and nurses, among others, are required by law to report suspected cases to authorities. These individuals are known as "mandated reporters."

Other forms include physical and sexual abuse, as well educational neglect, which she said is the least-reported, involving single parents with mental issues who have a hard time getting kids ready for school.

One of the reasons people do not report abuse, Rogers said, is the concern, "What if I'm wrong?" The bigger and more important question, she said, is "What if you're right?"

Sheriff Trafton encouraged residents to vote for a part-time resource officer at Searsport District Middle and High School. He explained how it was "successful in earning trust with students, staff and parents."

Trafton said the Sheriff's Department needed to "regain the public's trust" after events earlier this year. He spoke of working with Mount View art students to create posters to encourage reporting of suspected child abuse, which were displayed at the forum, "as a way to connect with the students."

The anonymous tip line is a way for folks to come forward, Trafton said, and still remain unidentified. They just need to say, "I wish to remain anonymous."

Trafton was asked "What you are doing to build relationships?"

"Sometimes it's our fault we don't educate people on what we do," the sheriff said. "We don't have an ulterior motive to turn against parents."

Superintendent Downing acknowledged, "There aren't always red flags that go up."

While "kids are my priority," he said, "there are procedures we are mandated to follow."

Teachers in the system "care a tremendous amount," Downing said. "Kids need to feel that when they come forward, they will be helped and that teachers are there for them."

Downing also spoke in favor of a resource officer for RSU 20, "having an enforcement officer you can talk to, students realize they are just as human as everyone else."

Asked when he gets involved, Downing replied, "Right away. Every report that comes in goes through the Superintendent's Office. We make a report, then we hope it is taken to the next level."

As for the next step, Downing said, "We would follow up. We don't always get answers. We as adults have to protect our children."

What happens when a call comes in?

"If it was an 800 dialed call, we would review the information and determine if it is a substantiated call, call the family and make a visit," Downing said. "Child Protective Services would review as well. If there is a finding, sometimes police are called."

Nicole Fallon works with Child Protective Services and is an advocate for New Hope for Women. The agency is a place for women to talk about domestic violence, Fallon explained, and also helps with sheltering, transitional housing, violence awareness and bullying.

"It crosses all lines — men, women and children. I work with caseworkers and work with victims," she said. "I also work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services."

Rogers summed up ways to prevent child abuse: Take care of yourself as a parent, learn how to handle stress, ask for help, be active and participate in school activities, and let your children know they are special and safe.

The panel's moderator, Kristine Braga, summarized:

  • Each one of us has a role, and that can be on many different levels.
  • The purpose of the forum was to expand on "building community for our kids."
  • Supporting them is not just the responsibility of parents, but also of schools, police and community.