BATESVILLE — Each of the 400 colorful handprints along the hallways of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County was put there by a child the center has helped since it opened in November 2018.
Last year the center helped 230 children. The center hasn’t been as busy this year. While that sounds like good news, it could be underreporting, since students went home from school weeks early this year due to the pandemic, and children often confide in school employees.
“It was really scary when COVID started, thinking about kids living in abusive environments,” said Laynette Cole, a community education specialist with the center.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County is a safe place for child abuse victims to receive comprehensive services in a child-friendly atmosphere. It serves children and families from Izard, Stone, Sharp and Fulton counties also.
Any child abuse allegation called into the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline or local law enforcement can be brought to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County. This allows the multidisciplinary staff to provide services alongside the investigative agencies, such as law enforcement, prosecutors and the Department of Human Service.
The trained forensic interviewers create a safe environment for the child to tell their story, while investigators watch from a conference room. This reduces trauma to the child by only having to tell their story once during an interview, to one person.
Before children’s advocacy centers, an abused child might have to tell their story multiple times and be examined at multiple locations, such as a hospital, police station or prosecutors office. Child advocacy centers bring those services to the child, helping lessen the trauma of abuse and promoting healing.
“We don’t teach ‘stranger danger’ because 90 percent of victims know their abuser and 60 percent of victims never tell anyone,” Cole said.
Cole said adults can remember the acronym B-R-A-V-E:
B: Believe. A child who discloses in an unsupportive environment is likely to recant.
R: Remain calm. Children may be unlikely to tell their story to a forensic interviewer or investigator if the first person they tell had a negative reaction such as crying, getting upset or angry.
A: Always listen. Victims want to be heard. Leave the questioning to the experts. Too many questions can hurt the investigation and prosecution.
V: Validate. Listen and thank them for their courage.
E: Expose. Call the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline at 1-844-728-3224 and dual report to local law enforcement. If a child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
Signs of abuse adults can look for include bruises, difficulty connecting with others, avoiding a specific person or place, feelings of shame or guilt and difficulty walking or sitting. The center has a Body Safety program, suitable for ages 5 and up, that provides easy to remember information for children.
The center is funded through foundation support and grants, and donations from the community. They accept bottled water, snacks, cleaning supplies and monetary donations, as well as blankets and stuffed animals.
“We need donations of new clothing of all sizes, because seeing the tags on the clothes gives the children a feeling of worth,” Cole said. Also, in some cases, clothing is evidence and needs to be collected by the investigators.
For more information about the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County, visit cac independence.org.