What about our kids? Who keeps them safe? That falls squarely on the shoulders of the grown-ups responsible for these youngsters. Let’s take a quick look at how well that is working.
According to the 2006-2007 Child Advocacy Center’s annual report, nationally, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18; every six hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect; effects of abuse increase the likelihood of drug and alcohol dependency, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, delinquency and violent crimes for these children; 1,200 to 1,400 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome are reported each year; and one in four will die and the other three will need medical care for the rest of their lives.
Here are some numbers that hit closer to home: Cumberland County has: 8,450 children that were reported to the Department of Social Services as abused and/or neglected from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006; Cumberland County has the highest rate of children murdered by their parents or caretakers in N.C. from 1985-2000 — twice the rate of children who died as a result of abuse or neglect compared to the rate for all of N.C.; 55 children were killed by their parents or caretakers from 1985-2004.
“A lot of times people try and link it to the military,” said Stacy Pendarvis, prevention coordinator at the Child Advocacy Center located in downtown Fayetteville. “Our military families and nonmilitary families equally experience abuse.”
“I think another thing that the community does not realize is that we do have a serious problem in this community,” said Jackie Davis, the case data financial manager. “It’s not just in this neighborhood or that neighborhood, or this school or that school — it’s everywhere.”
The Child Advocacy Center does not only record heartbreaking statistics — they take action, not just to help the victims of child abuse and their families, but to train the professionals who work with the kids and their families and to educate the community on child abuse prevention. Tammy Laurence, the executive director, uses a three-pronged approach to stop child abuse in its tracks — prevention, intervention and reducing trauma to children.
Even children from stable, loving, well-adjusted families can become victims of abuse. That fact is not lost on the Child Advocacy Center. It is the cornerstone of one of its outreach programs called Darkness to Light, which focuses on teaching adults seven steps to preventing, recognizing and reacting responsibly to child sexual abuse.
The organization also provides information to new moms about preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome. Resources and literature are available to anyone in the community about topics ranging from Internet safety to learning how to recognize and report child abuse. Also, speakers are available for club and group presentations on a variety of topics.
“What I’ve always heard since I got here is ‘Child abuse is a community problem and it requires community solutions,’” said Pendarvis. “We can’t solve the problem alone. We’ve got to have a buy-in from our partner agencies; we’ve got to have support from the community.”
With professionals from the Department of Social Service, mental health, forensic pediatricians, the district attorney’s office and more as their partners, the Child Advocacy Center works hard to keep these organizations trained and current on abuse issues.
“We also serve as the hub for several agencies who work with children who have been abused,” said Davis. “We also have a victim’s advocate that works with the families.”
With brightly painted interview rooms and office space for officials from law enforcement, medical facilities and the judicial system, the Child Advocacy Center conducts interviews with children and families and then coordinates with other agencies to share the information. This helps the kids feel safe and keeps them from having to tell and relive their stories over and over.
All the work that the Child Advocacy Center does benefit more than just abused kids and their families.
“We saved the community last year almost $960,000,” said Laurence.
To find out how you can help, give them a call at 486-9700.