An observer standing outside 405 W. Third St. may straddle the boundary of normalcy. Most of the surrounding buildings have extinguished their lights for the night, but a passerby would surely notice the men and women wandering within a still-bare office adjacent to the Child Advocacy Program. Volunteers pound nails and hang walls onto the future addition to the program’s office until 10 each night.
The sounds of grinding screw guns and pounding hammers don’t fit in with those of passing automobile engines and clicking heels. What goes on within the walls of the Child Advocacy Program of Chautauqua County office, or CAP, doesn’t quite jive with the societal definition of normalcy yet either. Executive Director Jana McDermott wants to change that.
When she invites an outsider into the CAP office, she must provide a tour. Sitting a newcomer down in the entryway wouldn’t do. Too much could be forgotten; too much could be left unsaid.
CAP takes a multi-room, multifaceted approach to bringing victims justice. At 405 W. Third St., children’s voices have come to the forefront. Officials need more rooms in which to hear them.
CAP is a coordinated effort of a multi-disciplinary team that includes the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, Child Protective Services, and medical, counseling and advocacy services. The groups work together on an approach to child abuse allegations, including sexual and physical abuse.
In 2009, the birth year of CAP, Chautauqua County received 2,151 reports of suspected child abuse. One year later, the program served 369 children and their non-offending family members. CAP served 382 children during the first 11 months of 2011. With a growing program, officials want more space to support victims and their non-offending guardians.
“We are trying to reduce the stigma and the ‘icky factor’ around child sexual abuse,” McDermott said. “Coming here gives them a safe, non-threatening place to have their interview … to tell the story about what happened to them.”
Of the children served thus far in 2011, 237 were victims of sexual abuse. CAP figures state a child is sexually abused every six minutes in the U.S. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18.
Experts discovered most victims do not contact authorities. Instead, criminals walk free and non-offending parents and victims suffer with their secrets.
“We really focus on the healing of the child and the parent,” McDermott said. “The No. 1 predictor for child healing is how the parent, or non-offending caregiver, is able to handle the situation.”
The healing begins after accidental or intentional disclosure. A Child Protective Services representative evaluates the situation and determines if the victim qualifies for the program. In addition to those who suffer first-hand abuse, children in the program may have witnessed violence or have been exposed to drugs at home.
A non-offending guardian brings the child into the CAP office, and the tour, or welcoming, begins. The child then plays in the waiting area, and CAP officials take the non-offending parent down the hall for a debriefing on what’s to come. Simultaneously, a forensic interviewer, a trained professional, builds a relationship with the child, readying him or her for the upcoming conversation.
The interviewer brings the child into a room and begins to ask questions. Next door, investigators and advocates observe through closed-circuit television. CAP officials record the interview in hopes of eliminating similar questioning in the future.
“These are not interrogations; these are interviews that are done with children. It’s important that they’re done in a way that doesn’t re-traumatize them,” McDermott said.
In addition, officials hope to promote justice and empower victims through the interview process. CAP partners follow-up with medical evaluations, mental health services, data tracking and case reviews.
In 2010, CAP became an accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance. “Kids that have come here for this initial process want to come back here,” McDermott said. “They were heard and listened to and understood. That’s what kids need to have in a situation like this.”
The late-night workers, with their screw guns and hammers, work for the same goal. They’re not so much workers as they are volunteers, individuals donating their time to provide CAP with more offices and rooms for counseling and forensic interviews.
Some are local laborers, like Todd Boardman, Roger Samuelson and Dave Jett. Charlie Hodges, construction coordinator, is employed by Christ First United Methodist Church. The others are employees of Cummins. The company allows workers to use four hours of company time for volunteering each year. More than 40 employees took advantage of the opportunity in November, spending four hours of a scheduled night shift working on the CAP project.
Much of the work, but not all, is done at night. Some contractors, who wish to remain anonymous, offer their services during the day. Hodges and his fellow workers have received material donations from several businesses, including Cummins. “We’ve been able to do some networking. It’s a real community effort,” he said.
Each newcomer brings his or her contacts in, and the volunteer outreach extends. “If there’s one item they can bring in, it’s one less they have to purchase,” Boardman said.
The CAP expansion project began Nov. 7. McDermott hopes it will be completed by the end of January.
In the meantime, she plans to begin primary prevention workshops called “Stewards of Children” this month. She encourages community members to get involved. “People don’t care about child abuse until someone tells them a story about how they helped the children,” she said.
With increased awareness on physical and sexual abuse, talking about and preventing them may become a little more normal.
Shelters, Scott (2011, December 4). Volunteers Lend Helping Hands To Child Abuse Victims The Post Journal.
Retrieved Dec 23, 2011, from http://www.post-journal.com/page/content.detail/id/595404.html