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Number of child abuse cased down slightly in Onondaga County

Child abuse numbers are dropping slightly in Onondaga County. But advocates for victims say public awareness is the way to make a real dent in the number of abuse cases.

The McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse has seen a slight decrease the number of children coming through the agency in the last three years -- from 668 in 2012 to 593 last year.  That almost mirrors the drop in abuse hotline calls to Onondaga County – which fell from just over 6,600 in 2-12 to approximately 6,200 last year.

While it may sound counterintuitive, the center’s director Linda Cleary says if the numbers go up it might not be a bad thing.

"That doesn’t mean more abuse is taking place, but it means more children are feeling confident or comfortable enough to be able to disclose,” said Cleary. “Adults are recognizing the signs and symptoms and they’re really coming forward trying to help children.”

That’s why Cleary says McMahon/Ryan is pushing a two-pronged public awareness strategy. Programs are growing that focus on children in schools and pre-schools; and an education program just started this year to teach adults how to identify the signs and symptoms of child abuse.

"We have found that in almost every school that we go to, in every classroom we go into, invariably there will be some child who will come up to our facilitator who’s doing the program, or who might go to a teacher or the nurse or someone and make a statement that puts up a red flag and that can kind of be investigated,” said Cleary.

Cleary admits it’s tough to get people to talk about it.

“Just to educate people about what to recognize, and quite frankly what to say, if a child says something to you. The worst thing anyone can say is 'I don’t believe you, it didn’t happen.’ We want an adult to say ‘I believe you’ and take the next steps.”