BRIDGEWATER, NJ – Freeholder Deputy Director Patricia L. Walsh invites professionals who work with children and families to the Somerset County Commission on Child Abuse & Missing Children’s spring forum, which will be held 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 12, at the Somerville Elks Lodge 1068, 375 Union Ave.

The forum’s title is “Tech Dependency: How it Impacts Children, Families and Predatory Behavior.”

Seating is limited; registration is requested by Wednesday, April 10. Contact Gretchen Craig, county Office of Youth Services, at (908) 704-6333 or gcraig@co.somerset.nj.us to register.

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The conference fee of $40 includes two and a half professional development credits and, upon request, continuing education hours from Rutgers School of Social Work. Checks should be payable to “Friends of Somerset County Youth.” Registration, networking and a full breakfast will be available at 8:30 a.m.

“Most of us are dependent on technology. From the internet to mobile phones, laptops and desktops, smartwatches and devices that act as personal assistants, we are constantly using it,” said Walsh. “Technology has many benefits. But there are occasions when it can force parents and professionals to deal with subjects that they are unprepared for, like sexting. We not only need to be aware of how our children are using technology, but also of how predators are taking advantage of it.” 

Participants will learn how innocent web searches and gaming sessions can put children in contact with pornography and predators. They also will get a better understanding of how some behaviors, like elementary students flirting through sexting, can produce life-altering results.

Keynote speaker John Kriger, a New Jersey State Police-trained sex abuse investigator, is a national and international speaker, author, consultant and content expert. He specializes in the health services arena and speaks extensively on technology dependency issues related to anxiety and depression, violence in the home, school and workplace, and the threats of online predatory behavior. Kriger holds a Bachelor of Science in human services and a master’s in management and he is a New Jersey licensed Clinical Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselor.

The forum also will include a presentation of the Richard Z. Voorhees Award for child advocacy, which is presented each year to a professional in the public or private sector who has a demonstrated history of advocating for the needs of children in Somerset County. The 2019 award will be presented to Brenda Esler, executive director of EmPoWER Somerset, for her efforts to support children in leading safe, healthy and happy lives through her professional work and as a Somerset County 4-H volunteer.

This year’s forum is sponsored by the Somerset County Commission on Child Abuse and Missing Children, the Friends of Somerset County Youth, Rutgers School of Social Work and the Somerville Elks Lodge 1068 National Foundation Gratitude Grant. Held during Child Abuse Prevention Month, the annual spring forum is intended to help raise community awareness and combat abuse and neglect of children.

For more information, contact Mariann Bruno, Somerset County Office of Youth Services, at (908) 704-6356.