My Pulse News

Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Terrible Truth: Child Abuse Happens

Lions learn how to prevent and respond

Jeri Pearson

Overcoming the taboo of topics thought best to not be discussed in public, the Mena Lions Club warmly embraced hearing about a tragic subject – child abuse and how to raise awareness and prevent it in the community.

Holly Heer, Development Coordinator for Cooper-Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center, spoke to the Mena Lion’s Club Friday about what community members can do to prevent child abuse.

The Cooper-Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center’s mission is to utilize a multidisciplinary team approach to providing a safe, child-friendly and caring place where children are assessed when allegations of child abuse arise.

“Before this program, a child would have to talk to many agencies and go through multiple examinations, multiple interviews and thats a scary experience – interrogation rooms, and have to go to the principals office and that type of thing,” Heer explained. “Many times the child would feel like they were in trouble.”

The CAMCAC offers a safe, child-friendly environment, where a comprehensive and coordinated approach is taken in response to allegations of child abuse. The CAMCAC is one of 14 advocacy centers in the state of Arkansas and has the unique distinction of being the only hospital-based child advocacy center in the state. The CAMCAC serves approximately 600 clients annually and has offices located in both Hot Springs and Mena.

“Now called the Child Advocacy Center, one person stays with the child through the entire process,” Heer said. “It is a child-friendly environment, where non-leading questions are asked and the interview is observed by other agencies outside the interview room, and interviewers are fed questions suggested by agencies.”

In 2012, the CAMCAC was awarded the highest level of membership with National Children’s Alliance, which is the accrediting agency for Children’s Advocacy Centers.

The CAMCAC provides essential services to Arkansas’ youngest victims of abuse ranging from birth to 18 years of age. These services include forensic interviews, child advocacy, medical exams, and mental health therapy. The CAMCAC also provides education and training regarding child abuse in the communities we serve, including a child abuse prevention and body safety program for children.

The CAMCAC utilizes a multidisciplinary team approach to reduce trauma placed on children during child abuse investigations, while offering a neutral child-friendly environment. The CAMCAC’s services are individualized to meet the needs of each specific child and family while still meeting the needs of the multidisciplinary team. We collaborate with agencies in 11 counties including representatives from the Arkansas State Police (Crimes Against Children Division), local law enforcement, Prosecuting Attorney’s office, Division of Children and Family Services, mental health, medical personnel, and other local and/or state agencies. Strong coordination and communication between these disciplines make case investigation less traumatizing for child victims and their families.

The Child Advocacy Center utilizes trauma-based cognitive therapy, have Arkansas State Police in offices, has a prevention team that teaches a body safety program to 22,000 students a year in schools and teaches mandated reporters – which includes individuals working in schools or day cares, law enforcement, and other businesses that come into contact with children.

Heer said all services are free. 

“It cost the agency about $2,800 per child,” she said, noting the center is dependent on grants and donations.

“We did not close during pandemic. Our team is on call 24-7,” she said, noting an office is located in Mena.

“Our main point of contact is the hotline, but we also work the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies.”

Heer said she is available to speak to groups, businesses or others who are interested in being mandated reporter training, advocacy and donating to the Child Advocacy Center. 

For more information, contact  Holly Heer at 501-622-2531, email holly.heer@mercy.net or visit the Child Advocy Center on Facebook, #camcac.

If you suspect child abuse and neglect in Arkansas, please call 1-844-SAVE-A-CHILD (1-844-728-3224).

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