Fighting abuse

Published 2:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blue ribbons throughout area schools and businesses signify the bruises on children as a result of child abuse. With April designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, staff and volunteers with the Escambia County Regional Child Advocacy Center have been spreading information in an effort to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect. The local Center is also known as the Kathy Hill Child Advocacy Center.
Cheryl Neal, who is a victim and family advocate with the Center, said the goal in messages delivered this week to area students is prevention.
“Our goal is to work on prevention of sexual abuse,” Neal said. “We go into the schools and talk to the children about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. We give out pencils, bracelets, and coloring books to the children and a letter to take home to their parents.”
Stephanie Jackson, director of the Center, said statistics involving child abuse are shocking.
“Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States,” Jackson said. “A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds; almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse; more than three out of four children are under the age of four; child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and all levels of education.”
Jackson said a larger portion of men and women currently in prisons have reported being victims of child abuse themselves.
“In the prisons in the United States, 14 percent of all men and 36 percent of all women report they were abused as children,” Jackson said. “Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. A child needs to know that it is not his/her fault in a situation of abuse or neglect.”
Jackson said in order for adults to be helpful, an open mind is needed.
“One of the most helpful things that a concerned adult can do for a child is to keep an open mind about the possibility of sexual abuse,” Jackson said. “A sudden change in a child’s behavior or a child’s statement alluding to some unhappiness may be a sign of real problems. Asking open-ended questions may prompt the child to disclose something that is happening at home, and may be the first step toward protecting the child.”
According to Neal, staff members at the Advocacy Center respond to law enforcement officers and the Department of Human Resources when there is a potential victim of abuse.
“We offer a friendly environment for the children,” Neal said. “That gives them the opportunity to express what they are really feeling and we can help decide if the case should be brought before the district attorney to determine how it should be handled.”
The Child Advocacy Center was founded in 2002 to facilitate investigation and prosecution of child abuse, severe physical abuse or neglect. The Center receives referrals form DHR, the district attorney’s office and law enforcement.
“We, at the Child Advocacy Center, interview children in a child-friendly setting with the goal of obtaining detailed information,” Jackson said. “Our primary goal is to promote the protection of children and to hold offenders accountable for the abuse and neglect.”
For any additional information or help, contact the Advocacy Center at 251-809-2906.