Mercer County Children and Youth Services

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can make a child abuse referral?
Anyone that suspects child abuse or neglect may make a referral. Professionals who come into contact with children are required to report when they have a reasonable suspicion that a child coming before them in their professional capacity is an abused child. Professionals are termed mandated reporters.

Will my name be revealed if I make a referral?
Those who report abuse or neglect are guaranteed confidentiality by Mercer County Children and Youth Services whether they request it or not. When cases of severe physical abuse and/or sexual abuse are reported to the agency, the agency must report these to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are also expected to treat the referral source as confidential.

How do I make a referral?
Referrals may be made to the agency by calling (724)662-2703 during normal working hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Emergency referrals may be made after hours, weekends, and holidays by calling (724) 662-6130.

Will I be told what the agency does with my referral?
The Child Protective Services Law permits, but does not require, a children and youth agency to provide a mandated reporter only the following information: 1) The final status of the child abuse report following the investigation, whether it was indicated, founded or unfounded; 2) any services provided, arranged for or to be provided by the county agency to protect the child. Mandated reporters who report student abuse are entitled only the final status of the report. Due to the confidentiality instructions, we cannot provide any information related to the investigation of neglect referrals.

How can I become a foster parent?
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please call the agency at (724) 662-2703. The receptionist will relay your interest to the foster care coordinator who in return will contact you.

When is physical discipline child abuse?
Physical discipline that results in a physical injury which causes a child severe pain or significantly impairs a child's physical functioning, either temporarily or permanently, is considered child abuse.

What are the signs of physical abuse?
Physical abuse may be present when a child has unexplained non-accidental injuries. Common areas for these types of injuries are the face, back, torso, buttocks, and thighs. Repeated abuse may be present if the child has injuries that are in various stages of healing.

What are the signs of sexual abuse?
A verbal disclosure by the child is the clearest indication that sexual abuse may have occurred. Other behavioral indications include onset of withdrawal, fantasy or infantile behavior, poor peer relationships, sophisticated or unusual sexual behavior or knowledge, and changes in school performance.

What is neglect?
Neglect is when a child is not provided with minimal acceptable level of the essentials of life as the result of an act or failure to act by the parent or caretaker and was not the result of something out of the control of the parents or caretakers. The essentials of life include food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, education as required by law, personal care, proper supervision, and protection from physical, sexual and emotional harm.

At what age can children be left unsupervised?
The law does not specify an age at which children may be left alone unsupervised. That decision is left to the discretion of parents and caretakers who must determine if the child is mature enough to be left alone. The maturity, intellect, length of time, and ability to protect oneself from harm are all things that should be considered whether a child should be unsupervised.

What is the legal age one must be to be a babysitter?
The law does not specify an age requirement for babysitters. There are many factors to be considered when choosing a babysitter.

  • What is the maturity level of the babysitter?

  • How many children will they be watching?

  • Ages of the children being watched.

  • How long do the children need to be watched?

  • Do the children have any special physical, mental or behavioral needs?

  • Is there a responsible adult available in the event of an emergency?

How can I get a job with Children and Youth?
All positions within the Office of Children and Youth are Civil Service positions. Hiring is done in accordance with the Civil Service Regulations. You may obtain examination announcements and other information on employment opportunities from your nearest PA Job Center. Civil Service information, procedure, summary of examinations, and individual announcements are also available on the internet at

Can Mercer County Children and Youth Services assist me with my custody/visitation concerns/disputes?
Mercer County Children and Youth Services only handles issues related to specific allegations of child abuse or neglect. For issues of custody or visitation, an attorney must be contacted to make arrangements.

What is Mercer County Children and Youth Services position regarding spanking and physical discipline?
Mercer County Children and Youth Services advocates non-physical forms of discipline such as time-out or loss of privilege. When physical discipline is used, it creates risk for a more serious injury to occur. Also, the use of physical discipline teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems. The use of physical discipline often causes children to be resentful, angry and bitter. It often utilizes fear of parents to teach lessons rather than respect and understanding to correct behavior.