BY LOGAN MCCOURTNEY –
There are millions of them. People probably know them, talk to them, or live near them. They have a story to tell, but who will listen? These wanting their voices to be heard are abused children. Each year, millions of referrals are made to child protection agencies in hope that someone will be their voice. These children need a voice, as Jane Goodall has said, “The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
The need seems far too great, the problem too far spread, but there is help. Throughout the state of Arkansas there are Child Advocacy Centers [CAC’s], each center serving the victims of child abuse. Each center strives to provide excellent care for child abuse victims through response and prevention through service and education. Mena is fortunate enough to receive the services of a child advocacy center, the Mercy Child Advocacy Center is a satellite center serving the Polk County area. Karen Wright, director of the Cooper Anthony Advocacy Center in Hot Springs, said she is thankful that they were able to expand services to Mena, “There is a real need in the Mena area. Anytime children in the area needed the services of a advocacy center, the children were having to be brought to Hot Springs. We wanted to be as helpful as we could in a time of crisis and we felt this meant getting a center to Mena.”
Currently, the center is a satellite campus, meaning that there isn’t anyone there full time, but when the need arises there will be someone there to serve. Each person that serves at a center, regardless of their specific roles and titles, are each called advocates. “Our advocates are part of the process of giving a voice to the victims. We call them advocates because they are there for more than a job, but to care and speak on behalf of those who can’t,” says Karen. Advocacy Centers serve a rather large need within the pursuit of justice for the children abused. Anytime there is a hotline report of abuse or potential suspicion of abuse, the hotline reporter gives the report to DHS or to the Arkansas State Police-Crimes Against Children Task Force. In the process of investigating a child abuse, if law enforcement sees that it is necessary for a forensic interview, then abuse victims may be referred to a center to be interviewed in a non-threatening way. “These centers were developed so children wouldn’t have to be interviewed and reinterviewed. Instead one of our advocates will interview the victim using non leading questions. Each advocate has received specialized training to properly interview and care for the children,” explains Karen.
Although the center in Mena is a satellite campus, it is Karen’s hope that it will be full-time soon and there would be a full-time interviewer. Despite not being a full-time center, the Mena location is able to meet all needs in the time of crisis. “The building is fully equipped and set up to handle any of these cases.” As a way to raise awareness of the needs of child abuse victims and to educate on the services that can be provided, the Mena center will be hosting a rally at the advocacy center, April 27th. “We want the community to understand the impact that the center in Mena is making. At the rally we will have 66 pinwheels in the ground, this represents the 66 different children who came through the center’s doors to get help. That is 66 kids that have in the past gone to Hot Springs. The Mena center is making and will continue to make a real difference in the fight against child abuse,” Karen says proudly. While the rally will educate people in the community about the needs of child abuse victims, but it will also acknowledge those in the medical profession or law enforcement who have fought tirelessly for these children. “Our true heros are the people on the front line. By front line we mean the people that are seeking justice for these kids and helping make all this possible,” says Karen.
Along with services that are provided to child abuse victims and their families, the advocacy center performs awareness training and prevention. “Last fall we formally rolled out our prevention services in Hot Springs and we want to do this for Mena. Our prevention is teaching body safety to kids pre-k through high school. We want to empower children and want kids to stay safe,” explains Karen. Each prevention service is age appropriate. The prevention services help kids practice drawing boundaries. In addition to raising awareness in schools and providing prevention services, the advocacy centers also want to come alongside churches, businesses, or anyone else who may want to be educated. “We just want to serve whatever area we are in by providing solutions to the problems. All we want is to be a part of the solution to this awful problem.
Child advocacy centers across the state serve as a place of healing and justice. Each time their services are used, victims of child abuse move one step closer to restoration and hope. The Mena center will be a constant reminder of the children that need a voice and the need to support them. “Come see us at the rally. We are here in Mena to help serve and help the most vulnerable population and be a part of the solution of childhood abuse.”