Child abuse task force forum at Athol library

  • Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol, 2nd Franklin District representative, at the Statehouse in Boston.

Recorder Staff
Saturday, September 16, 2017

ATHOL — The Massachusetts Legislative Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, which includes state Rep. Susannah Whipps, plans to hold a community forum at the Athol Public Library on Sept. 26.

The task force, created by the Massachusetts Legislature, ran an initial pilot forum in Topsfield and tapped Athol in hopes of attracting youth serving organizations and other appropriate agencies. There will be a presentation on the major findings and recommendations of a nearly 300-page report the task force finalized and provided to the Legislature in late June.

The forum is slated to last from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Whipps, who represents the 2nd Franklin District and recently changed her party affiliation from Republican to independent, is a vital member of the task force, according to Dr. Tony Rizzuto who also sits on the panel.

The task force is co-chaired by Suzin Bartley, the executive director of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust, and state Child Advocate Maria Mossaides. Membership includes nearly 30 public and private youth-serving agencies, offices, organizations, and elected and appointed officials. Mossaides said Whipps has been an asset to the task force.

“She has been unbelievable, in a very good way. … She has been to virtually every single meeting,” Mossaides said. “She has been an absolute pleasure to work with. I cannot sing her praises enough.”

Rizzuto said the task force has been charged with creating guidelines and tools that can help youth-serving groups “develop child sexual abuse prevention and intervention frameworks that rely on strengthened policies and procedures, screening and hiring protocols, clear behavioral guidance, codes of conduct, and training on abuse recognition, prevention, and effective response.” These youth oriented groups, according to Rizzuto, come in all shapes and sizes, from schools districts and to YMCAs to municipal sports leagues, church-based groups and businesses and studios that provide instruction in activities like dance, martial arts, sports, music, crafts and other hobbies.

The task force plans to have these regional, community-based forums in different parts of the state. The forums will be an opportunity to talk about child abuse and neglect. Packets of tools and materials will be provided and Rizzuto said the forums will also offer “perspectives from a group of large and small public and private (youth-serving organizations) about what they are already doing to protect the children in their care, how they could use our help to create or strengthen their preparedness, and what kind of ongoing support they would like to see from the task force.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258. On Twitter: @DomenicPoli