Daily news is usually pretty depressing stuff. Be it local, national or global, there are always plenty of stories that are grim, scary or heartbreaking. Child abuse is one of the most consistent and horrifying subjects in the news. It’s easy – and appropriate – to be overwhelmed. The scale of the problem – no, the crisis – is overwhelming.
But one thing has gotten better in Mecklenburg County – and in the face of this towering issue, maybe we can celebrate it.
The process of speaking up, reporting and stopping child sexual abuse is better for kids and their families than it used to be. Ten years ago, traumatized children and their caregivers had to navigate an array of agencies alone. The system was dense and difficult to maneuver.
Now it’s more holistic, streamlined, even loving. A five-way partnership was built between the District Attorney’s Office, the Police, the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Carolinas HealthCare System, and Pat’s Place, a private non-profit child advocacy center. Dedicated and caring people from all five organizations have worked hard and they made something good happen.
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Now, police or DSS refer and then accompany a child and her caregiver to Pat’s Place in Dilworth. They are greeted by a Family Advocate with a Masters Degree in Social Work. This advocate will be the family’s primary contact and resource throughout the process and beyond.
The child will also meet with a Forensic Interviewer. The interviewer is trained to conduct a developmentally appropriate, non-leading conversation that allows the child to describe what he has experienced or witnessed. This conversation is observed by investigators and case workers to eliminate the need for repeated interviews.
Immediately after the interview, staff at Pat’s Place will sit down with police and/or DSS to construct a safety plan to ensure the child is protected.
Finally, there is an exam conducted by professionals from Carolinas HealthCare System Pediatric Resource Center. With care and compassion, a medical provider will check the child’s physical health. So often, kids need reassurance that their bodies will indeed heal, that no one will be able to see that something happened to them.
Then the visit is over. In about three hours, the advocate has come on board for the long term, a court-admissible interview has been recorded, a safety plan has been made and a physical exam completed.
Healing is a long, long road, but maybe those three hours were the first steps. Some kids will return to Pat’s Place to continue the healing journey, meeting with a therapist trained to work with traumatized children.
It’s not perfect because no approach or partnership is. But it really is making something better for kids who have already been through too much. And that matters.