November 30, 2021

COVID skews child abuse reports

Events benefit Cortland Child Advocacy Center

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

People gather at Homer Hops Brewery for the Cortland County Child Advocacy Center’s Second Annual Be A Star fundraiser, featuring live music, a barbecue buffet, silent auctions and raffle prizes.

Child abuse numbers looked low when the COVID-19 pandemic started, but that’s not because the abuse stopped.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, kids weren’t going to school, they weren’t seeing doctors, they weren’t seeing those mandated reporters,” Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said Saturday at a fundraiser. “Once they went back to being in contact with those mandated reporters, that’s when the number of cases rose.”

A pair of fundraisers by the Cortland County Child Advocacy Center — the second annual Be a Star for Children and One Too Many NY 5k — was meant to raise awareness as well as money.

“One child abused is one too many,” said Kris Beard, director of the advocacy center. “We started Be A Star in 2019, but the pandemic came along and we didn’t have it last year.”

In fall 2020, victim advocate Megan Thomas came up with the idea of a virtual 5k to raise funds while social distancing. After pitching the idea, the New York State Children’s Alliance planned a statewide event in which 75% of each runner’s registration fee is donated to their local advocacy center.

Two years in a row, Cortland County had the second-most registrants for the 5k, Beard said. About 120 people registered for the 5k, and more than 50 came together in the village of Homer to run together.

Afterward, dozens convened at Homer Hops Brewery for the Be A Star fundraiser, featuring live music, a barbecue buffet, raffle prizes and silent auctions. All the proceeds go to the advocacy center to pay for services that help kids who have experienced abuse.

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For more information or to donate to Friends of the Cortland County Child Advocacy Center, visit

Last year, the state passed Erin’s Law, which requires public schools to teach students about sexual abuse, provide exploitation prevention classes and help kids learn that abuse can occur in any relationship.

During the pandemic, students watched the presentation from home. Taylor Jandrew, a community outreach educator for the advocacy center, oversaw more than 3,000 students — and nearly a dozen later said they had experienced situations similar to what they saw in the presentation.

“We’re all a team to help them through this,” Beard said. “We team up with law enforcement, Child Protective Services, the hospitals, counseling, first responders and more.”

Perfetti said childhood investigations take place at his office, but interviews with the kids are at the center, so the children need to tell their stories only once. But after that, kids may still need help — that’s where the advocacy center comes in, as well as volunteers who want to become a “star” for a child.

“It helps fund some of the initiatives the team works on that aren’t covered by grants,” said Kimberly Petrella, president of the Friends of the Cortland County Child Advocacy Center board.

“Think therapeutic horseback riding activities, baseball tickets, or different events where families can bring their kids to have a nice time,” Beard said. During the pandemic, virtual art classes were popular.

“We’ve never turned any child away,” Beard said. “We’re open 24 hours — abuse doesn’t just happen from 9 to 5.”