By Kelly Twedell
While dealing with the dark topic of child abuse, one organization in our community works tirelessly to bring healing and hope to the children and families affected — The Child Advocacy Center.
In the early 1990s a group of concerned professionals came together after recognizing the need for child abuse cases to be handled better in Cumberland County. Modeling their organization after the Child Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Ala. the local group received funding through the NC Governor’s crime commission to first open the doors in 1994 to serve children.
Roberta Humphries, the executive director of Fayetteville’s Child Advocacy Center, is thrilled with the growth and the footprint their organization has had in the community. This year the Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary and moving into its own building, a dream come true for the organization’s founding board members. The move to the permanent location was made possible through an anonymous donor providing the down payment for their building space, located at 222 Rowan St.
Some of the original board members who still remain involved to include: Debbie Jenkins, The Honorable Elizabeth Keever, Dr. Howard Loughin, Rosemary Zimmerman and Margaret ‘Buntee’ Russ (sp?).
The Child Advocacy Center serves as the central hub for bringing local resources together once an allegation of abuse has been determined. The family comes for victim advocacy services. Something unique to the Center is the dedicated forensic interview room that is used for the children during the investigative process. Last year 349 forensic interviews were conducted on site.
In 2000 the Junior League was instrumental in making the Child Advocacy Center a signature project, enabling them to move into their facility and provide operational support.
Every April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and this is when the Center’s annual pinwheel planting takes place. Perhaps you’ve seen rows of blue pinwheels in the yards of organizations and residences across town — displayed to show support and raise awareness for the prevention of child abuse. The pinwheels symbolize the bright future each child deserves and honor the 487 children the Center served in 2012.
Programs have continued to be added and increased over the years, such as the prevention and intervention work the Center does to promote awareness and educate the community on how to recognize the signs of abuse in children and what to do when abuse is suspected.
Another important program is the Darkness to Light children training program. The Center’s goal is to train 5 percent of the Cumberland County population, adding up to just over 11,000 people, by 2016. Working towards that goal, they have trained close to 4,000 people already to be stewards of children prevention work.
An initiative that also involves education and awareness is the Partner In Prevention Seal. Local organizations and schools can apply to take training courses and work towards a certification status after meeting set requirements. The advantage of this program is that the organizations are recognized for ensuring safe practices involving children within their organization and awarded a seal. The seal can be used for their company’s purpose as part of their advertising to give them more credibility over other organizations without one. The seal is renewable each year upon meeting the criteria for all staff and volunteers involved.
In 2010 the Child Advocacy Center launched a program using therapy dogs to meet and greet children and families at the facilities for interviews relating to child abuse. Eight therapy dogs were featured in their spring newsletter. The dog handlers ensure their dogs are certified, and the dogs consist of many different breeds. The dogs bring stress relief to the children by helping to calm and reduce anxiety levels.
In accordance with the Center’s mission of education and awareness, the Child Advocacy Center is hosting an annual Child Abuse Conference with breakout sessions on April 23, at the J.D. Fuller Recreation Center. The event is free to the public and geared toward those working to prevent child abuse. One of the keynote speakers is Darlene Ellison, the author of the book “The Predator Next Door”. Ellison’s ex-husband was arrested as part of an FBI sting operation for the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Her focus will be on the secondary victims to the predator and the impact her husband’s arrest had on her and her family members.
Activities planned to commemorate the Center’s anniversary during the month of April will include an open house on April 18 from 5 to 7:30p.m. to walk through the facility and learn about the Child Advocacy Center’s mission. There will be an opportunity for donors of all levels to name one of the many rooms after a loved one. Funds raised through these efforts will be used to retire the burden of the mortgage.