When sexual assault cases involving children make the news, ripples of concern often spread through nearby communities.
Earlier this month, with molesting a young boy. And Allegheny Police filed additional charges on the same worker this past weekend. But among local day care centers, employees said they haven’t yet seen heightened concern from parents.
Over the weekend, Allegheny Police charged Matthew Byars, 25, of the North Side, with fondling another boy three years ago at South Park and his residence. Byars was formerly employed by , a Scott Township daycare center.
at his North Side residence. That investigation revealed the assaults may have also occurred at Tender Care, leading to three other victims at the daycare center to come forward. Byars now faces five charges.
while Byars worked at the daycare beginning in 2007.
According to Renee Thomas, owner and director of , the center has not seen increased concern from parents. Nonetheless, she said, parents and caregivers generally become more conscious of the issue when stories of sexual assault surface.
“It kind of heightens our alertness as caregivers,” Thomas said. “I’m sure it causes everyone to be alert.”
At , director Stephanie Vespi said she began printing out news articles and circulating them among employees.
“It’s good practice to make sure that staff are aware,” Vespi said.
Vespi said that reminding employees of policies currently in place—such as background checks and a rule that requires at least two employees to be in any room containing children—helps the center refocus on preventing sexual abuse and allows employees to communicate preventative policies with concerned parents.
While parents haven’t expressed concern yet, Vespi said, she does not think reticence is at play.
“If they have an issue, they’re going to come right out and discuss it,” she said.
But while parents may not be taciturn, children who are victims of abuse can be. That’s why investigators in Scott Township are instructing parents to ask non-leading questions if they think their child may be a victim of sexual abuse.
Scott police Sgt. Jeffrey Skees said it is important for parents to open up to their children without planting ideas into their heads.
“Were there any times that made them feel uncomfortable at the daycare?” Skees said is a good starting question. “Different parents have different approaches. You don’t want to put an idea into a child’s head. But was there anything that made them feel uncomfortable? Talk to them about good touches and bad touches.”
Skees said parents who suspect their child may have been abused should call Scott police at 412-276-7725, or contact Allegheny County Police at 412-473-1200. Where the alleged abuse takes place determines which police agency is involved in the investigation.
“If somebody thinks their child (was abused), the way to ask is if they were ever made to feel uncomfortable,” Skees said. “If they don’t get a straight response, they need to look further into it an give us a call.”
He said the police interview will help determine if abuse occurred and where. Skees said he is not surprised that the investigation into Byars has turned up multiple allegations in numerous jurisdictions.
“When you have an allegation against someone like that at a daycare, I wasn’t surprised it sort of opened up the floodgates,” Skees said.
Byars is currently being held at Allegheny County Jail awaiting a preliminary hearing in August.