- May/June 2001
- Vol. 2, No. 3
Using Technology to Protect At-Risk Children
With Child Protective Services workers being stretched ever thinner, an innovative use of technology has improved abused children's access to emergency help.
The Watchful Shepherd program was created in 1993 in Washington County, Pennsylvania, by Joseph Femiani, founder of the non-profit organization The Watchful USA. Its aim is to protect children from physical abuse by means of an electronic monitoring device. "These children go to bed at night with us holding their hand," said Femiani. "They can sleep at night because they know they are safe, that someone who cares is always close by."
The device, similar to those that are used by elderly or disabled persons to summon help in emergencies, is designed to be activated by a child who is under immediate threat or fear of abuse. The initial contact is to hospital emergency personnel, who then immediately contact police if appropriate. The critical factor in this process is the ability to secure the cooperation of the at-risk families, allowing the placing of the devices in their homes. The Watchful Shepherd also provides ongoing weekly telephone contact with the child by a volunteer.
The Watchful Shepherd website notes that no reoccurrence of child abuse or neglect has been found in families that placed calls in Washington County. An unexpected outcome has been use of the device by parents who feared they were losing control and might hurt their child unless someone intervened.
The Watchful Shepherd model of child abuse prevention has been successfully implemented in 6 States and has protected over 373 families and more than 1,978 children between the ages of 3 and 17.
For more information about the Watchful Shepherd Program, visit http://www.watchful.org.
Workshops, presentations on the program, and demonstration of the equipment are scheduled by contacting:
The Watchful Shepherd USA
6000 Waterdam Plaza Dr.
McMurray, PA 15317