Yuma Sun

Amberly’s Place urges reporting of suspected child abuse

Umphress: Fear often keeps abused from speaking up


April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the staff at Amberly’s Place has been busy encouragin­g the public to report suspected abuse.

They’ve “planted” pinwheel gardens across the county as reminders and billboards highlighti­ng children to bring home the message:

“Please, if you suspect abuse of a child, report it,” Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly’s Place, urged in an email sent out to supporters.

“We know from statistics that only one in 10 children ever report they have been abused. The fear of nonbelief and getting in trouble is real for these kids so they stay silent. Sadly that gives the abuser even more power over them,” she noted.

She acknowledg­ed that no parent wants to hear their child has been abused and the negative impact doesn’t go away once the abuse stops. But, she pointed out, children can heal and lead healthy happy lives if they have the mental health services they need and if they are believed.

“Let the profession­als investigat­e and see if the child is safe,” Umphress said.

Amberly’s Place, the only family advocacy center in the county with a crisis team to assist abuse victims, regularly receives phone calls and emails detailing stories and fears with the question: “Should I report this?”

Each time staff responds the same way: “If you feel uncomforta­ble enough with the situation to ask if you should report ... REPORT IT.”

Umphress noted that one in three girls will be molested before they turn 18 and one in five boys will be molested before they turn 18.

“Put that fact with only one in 10 report and you can see why it is such an epidemic. Children who are abused and it is never reported have a higher chance of being victims of domestic violence and becoming a teen parent than nonabused kids do,” she said.

“Parents often want to just keep the child away from the abuser if it is a family member and they believe that is keep-

ing them safe. In reality, it sends the message to the child that they weren’t believed and causes additional trauma to them.”

She added: “Abuse needs to be reported. If the abuser loses access to one victim they don’t stop. Instead, they find a new one. Many families don’t understand that.”

Umphress signaled out an Adverse Childhood Experience­s study which shows the long-term negative impact abuse has on children. The higher the ACES number, the more trauma one has experience­d.

“Once the child’s negative behavior has been identified, it can be understood and worked with to improve the life of the child,” Umphress said.

Amberly’s Place offers training on ACES to any community group who works with children.

She pointed to Jessica Nicely as an example of how victims of abuse can succeed and lead happy lives.

Nicely wrote the book “All My Friends Are Zeros: My Secret to Overcoming Adverse Childhood Experience­s” about her abuse as a child. She went on to become Miss Arizona and now has a nonprofit which helps centers like Amberly’s Place.

Nicely speaks publicly about her life story with the goal of impacting the lives of survivors of child abuse and domestic violence worldwide. She has also been a spokespers­on for Prevent Child Abuse America’s Arizona Chapter

and is a speaker for the Arizona ACE Consortium.

“There is life after abuse!” Umphress noted.

Amberly’s Place brought on two new staff members this month and a new crisis advocate is starting this week. The center doesn’t name advocates “due to the fact they respond on scene and the defendant looks at the advocate as a threat as they guide the victim through the system. It could be dangerous for them if names were known,” Umphress explained.

However, she noted that all new advocates from Amberly’s Place have either

bachelor’s or master degrees. The new victim services coordinato­r “is amazing,” Umphress said. “She brings her background of mental health and crisis advocacy with her. We are excited to welcome her on board.”

Another new staff member is a former police officer and victim advocate and is now a crisis response advocate.

“They are both bilingual and will make a positive impact on our program and the victims we serve,” Umphress said.

For help, call the 24-hour helpline at (928) 373-0849.

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