How does our com­mu­nity re­spond to Child Abuse?

The Covington News - - LIVING - B. Wi­ley Stephens is a re­tired United Methodist Min­is­ter and au­thor who now re­sides in Cov­ing­ton

Did you know that one out of six boys and one out of four girls will be abused be­fore their 18th birth­day? This is a threat to their fu­ture and all the lives they touch. One of our area’s re­sponse to this chal­lenge is “A Child’s Voice”. This is the chil­dren ad­vo­cacy cen­ter lo­cated in So­cial Cir­cle. It serves New­ton, Wal­ton and sur­round­ing coun­ties.

It is an in­de­pen­dent agency that works closely with po­lice agen­cies, the Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Chil­dren Ser­vices, and area Dis­trict At­tor­neys. It is sup­ported by the gen­eros­ity of the com­mu­nity and is a part of the Cov­ing­ton-New­ton Un­tied Way.

April is Child Abuse Aware­ness Month. The hope is adults will help the young to have a voice. To have their story heard when they are too afraid to speak up. One chal­lenge to the com­mu­nity is to be ste­wards of the fu­ture. The cen­ter will help to fa­cil­i­tate a pre­ven­tion and re­sponse pro­gram for adults re­gard­ing child abuse is­sues. It is called, “Dark­ness to Light’s Ste­wards of Chil­dren.” To be will­ing to lis­ten to chil­dren, and where needed, to re­port.

Nancy Burgess, the Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Cen­ter, shared the good news that the Cen­ter has been ac­cred­ited for an­other four years by the Na­tional Chil­dren’s Al­liance. This was an­nounced fol­low­ing on site visit and re­view at the end of March. The Cen­ter re­ceived state ac­cred­i­ta­tion in 2009 by the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ters of Ge­or­gia. It re­ceived its na­tional ac­cred­i­ta­tion in 2010.

The Child’s Voice mission is to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive, co­or­di­nated re­sponse to child abuse. This aims at both re­duc­ing its oc­cur­rence and its im­pact on chil­dren. The Cen­ter seeks to meet the needs of chil­dren for whom there is an al­le­ga­tion that the child is a vic­tim of sex­ual or phys­i­cal abuse. It is also for chil­dren who have wit­nessed a vi­o­lent crime.

Have you ever thought what you should do if you sus­pect child abuse. You should call your county’s Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Chil­dren’s Ser­vice. If you have cause to be­lieve the child is in im­me­di­ate dan­ger call the po­lice. Re­mem­ber your iden­tity is strictly con­fi­den­tial. If you have good rea­son to sus­pect child abuse, re­port it. Let the au­thor­i­ties make the de­ci­sion if in­ter­ven­tion is needed.

Abuse in Ge­or­gia falls into three ma­jor cat­e­gories: sex­ual abuse, phys­i­cal abuse, and ne­glect. Sex­ual abuse is where a per­son uses a child un­der 16 for their own sex­ual plea­sure. Phys­i­cal abuse is bod­ily harm or in­jury to a child un­der 18. Ne­glect is the fail­ure to pro­vide the sub­stance needed or to pro­vide the en­vi­ron­ment the child needs.

The Cen­ter helps chil­dren in many ways. At the Cen­ter, the staff tries to put the child at ease by pro­vid­ing a child-friendly set­ting that is non-threat­en­ing. The goal, ac­cord­ing to Lind­sey Bet­tis, one of the Cen­ter Foren­sic in­ter­view Spe­cial­ist, is to gather fac­tual in­for­ma­tion as they pro­tect the chil­dren and en­cour­age dis­clo­sure. In­ter­views are video­taped to avoid mul­ti­ple in­ter­views. This help to re­duce the trauma of dis­clo­sure as well as to pre­serve the state­ment for court pur­poses.

An­other im­por­tant seg­ment is the foren­sic med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted by qual­i­fied pro­fes­sional. The nurse prac­ti­tion­ers are specif­i­cally trained for this del­i­cate pro­ce­dure and are mon­i­tored by physi­cians at Chil­dren’s Health­care of At­lanta via an au­dio/video con­nec­tion. Many times this step is needed to gather ev­i­dence. This helps to pros­e­cute of­fend­ers and to pro­tect in­no­cent peo­ple who may be wrongly ac­cused. Della Roys­ter, a nurse on the Cen­ter’s Staff, says ev­ery­thing is done to make the child as com­fort­able with the process as pos­si­ble. This in­cludes a rather large, stuffed, frog whose arms can be wrapped around the child. Also there are toys and com­fort blan­kets.

The work of the A Child’s Voce goes be­yond the work done at the Cen­ter. Upon re­quest the Cen­ter will pro­vide in­for­ma­tional ses­sions on top­ics re­lated to phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse. This is of­fered to com­mu­nity groups, civic groups, col­leges, con­gre­ga­tions and sim­i­lar group. If one you know needs help, call the Voice and see how they might be of help. Their num­ber is 770-4640082. The Cen­ter is lo­cated at 216 Brook­stone Place in So­cial Cir­cle.

The staff’s goal is to co­or­di­nate the uti­liza­tion of a multi-dis­ci­plinary team ap­proach to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, treat­ment, and pre­ven­tion of child sex­ual abuse and phys­i­cal abuse. When needed re­fer­rals are made to li­censed ther­a­pist for coun­sel­ing for the chil­dren and their fam­i­lies.

It is an un­der­state­ment to say that abuse is a very trau­matic event. All the lives that touch that life are af­fected as well. A Child’s Voice is one of the key re­sources in our com­mu­nity to give voice to those with­out voice, to bring heal­ing to those wounded, and to help all in­volved build a safer and more se­cure fu­ture.

B. WI­LEY STEPHENS

COLUM­NIST

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