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How does our community respond to Child Abuse?
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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 770-464-0082. 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 is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington