Groundbreaking New Study Spotlights the Limited Awareness of Child Abuse and Neglect

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On the eve of the passage of new laws aimed at fighting child abuse, a recent study found public awareness about its prevalence is surprisingly low. Only 17% of those surveyed believe child abuse is a problem, according to a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) and Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research.

"This research helps us quantify how little adults know about identifying abuse, understand what motivates them to get involved, and identify how maltreatment is currently recognized and reported."

A mother strikes her young child before quickly exiting a store. Was what just occurred discipline or was it abuse? More importantly, would those who witnessed the act know how to react, and, if necessary, report it?

Despite a number of high-profile cases, recent landmark research found that only about 17% of Pennsylvania’s adult population believes child abuse is a serious problem in the state. Even fewer think it’s a problem in their local communities.

Taking the lead in educating citizens about child maltreatment, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA), the largest provider of mandated reporter training in the Commonwealth, has sponsored a first of its kind research study to examine current attitudes and social norms in order to identify opportunities to correct misconceptions and protect children.

Childhood at Risk: An Exploration of Perceptions and Attitudes Regarding Child Abuse (2014), is based on a series of statewide consumer focus groups and a statewide consumer survey which was conducted over several months in 2013. The white paper was prepared by PFSA from data gathered by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.

Top-level areas of examination include:

  •     Extremely limited awareness of the issue itself
  •     Major conflict of discipline vs. abuse
  •     Barriers to recognizing and reporting abuse
  •     Lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for protecting children

"The findings are extremely revealing," said PFSA’s executive director Angela Liddle. “Child abuse is disturbing, so it’s understandable that people don’t want to think about the tragic realities. This research helps us quantify how little adults know about identifying abuse, understand what motivates them to get involved, and identify how maltreatment is currently recognized and reported. Although the study focuses on Pennsylvania, the results have national implications.”

A full copy of the white paper may be requested at

The findings come as tougher child protection laws are set to take effect later this year. “New legislation aside,” added Liddle, “the message we most need to convey is that every person has a role to play in keeping children safe. Remember that the child welfare system does not begin to protect children until a report is made. In Pennsylvania, protection begins by reporting suspected abuse to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.”

“This study clarified common assumptions about people’s willingness or desire to get involved,” said Berwood Yost, Director of the Center for Opinion Research. “If they believe a child isn’t safe, they want to ‘do the right thing’ but are not always sure how to do it. This research shows that people are more likely to get involved when they’ve received training that has prepared them to do so.”

Members of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance team are also available to provide in-depth presentations of the report in person, or via webinar. To schedule a presentation or for additional information, contact Angela Liddle (aliddle(at)pa-fsa(dot)org).

About PFSA: PFSA is the leader in training to recognize and report suspected child abuse and neglect through schools, early childhood education centers, religious institutions, and social service agencies. PFSA is the Pennsylvania sponsor of The Front Porch Project®, a community-based training initiative that educates the general public about how to protect children from abuse. PFSA also works with more than 50 affiliate agencies across Pennsylvania to provide information, educational materials, and programs that teach and support good parenting practices. To learn more about how you can recognize and report child abuse, visit or

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