Sean Nedimyer hasn't had an occasion yet to report suspected child abuse during the five months he's worked as housing services manager for Blair County Community Action Agency.
But he intends to report aggressively when the situation arises.
He was one of 13 human service agency "mandated reporters" - along with a member of the general public - at a workshop Tuesday in Altoona on preventing child abuse, learning tips on how they can fulfill their responsibilities better.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Blair County Coroner Patty Ross leads a conversation with agency workers and members of the public on training and intervention to prevent child abuse as part of the Front Porch Project on Tuesday.
Conducted by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, the workshop encouraged participants to pay attention and act on warning signs - like those missed or ignored in the Jerry Sandusky case.
The alliance wasn't holding the session here - part of a national series called The Front Porch Project - in response to the Penn State scandal, said Christina Phillips, the organization's director of training.
But the timing is apt.
"It's serendipity," Phillips said.
Nedimyer would rather report suspicions that prove false than hold back and risk misfortune.
"I don't want to take any chances," he said, referring to a recent child homicide. "Once that happens, you can't undo it."
He could have said the same about the Sandusky case.
Established 14 years ago by the American Humane Association in the belief that old-fashioned interaction among neighbors can deter mistreatment of kids, The Front Porch Project emphasizes intervention based on "red flags" to keep abuse from starting or halting it once begun.
With help from Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross, Phillips reviewed and explained how to recognize the signs, how to approach problem caregivers and how to safeguard yourself and the kids.
Phillips talked about being "respectful, but not judgmental," not provoking defensive reactions and being aware of danger.
If she sees a dad in a store treating his kids harshly, she might approach with a remark that emphasizes that it's unusual for a father to be shopping with kids, helping defuse resentment.
Caregivers naturally would bristle at a challenge by a stranger to their dealings with kids, so interveners should try to soften or neutralize what they say, while getting their point across, Nedimyer said.
It helps to show understanding and to lighten the mood with humor, he and others said.
"I know what you're going through," one participant suggested saying.
An offer to help can accompany that observation.
Or an attempt to distract a kid having a tantrum.
But a mere look - accompanied by a smile - could be enough, just to let the caregiver know people are watching, another participant said.
Among neighbors, an offer to help watch the always-hungry and unkept kids upstairs might be a godsend to their mother.
Conversely, that mother might ignore your knock when you come to get those kids on the agreed-upon Thursday evening, which presents the intervener with the choice of whether and how to follow up.
It isn't necessarily easy.
There can also be risk.
Interveners should trust your instincts, Phillips said.
If a situation makes "the hairs in the back of your neck stand up," you should heed that natural warning, even if it means coming back later with two people, she said.
Interveners should also be alert for weapons and cautious if drugs or alcohol seem to be involved, she said.
The project is about "reaching out to each other to help build that network of protection for kids," Phillips said.
Nothing is more important than the safety of kids, she said.
There were certainly lots of red flags in the Sandusky case, given his heavy involvement in the community, she said.
"Missed opportunities for intervention," she said. "It's about being aware. If we don't talk to each other, that kind of perpetrator can continue."
But if neighbors keep watch and tell each other when and where they sense a problem, "it's harder for [perpetrators] to find the privacy and secrecy they need," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.