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Child Advocacy Center fights abuse

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Todd Cohen

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Throughout the U.S., one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18.

In Cumberland County, the Child Advocacy Center works to prevent child abuse and address the needs of abused children and their families.

Formed in 1993 to provide a single location where officials from law-enforcement and social-service agencies at the same time could interview abused children who otherwise would be subject to the trauma of multiple interviews, the center quickly found it needed to broaden its focus.

The professionals who spearheaded formation of the center “realized we can do more to help these children get services they need in a faster time,” says Tammy Laurence, the center’s executive director.

So in addition to serving as a safe place for interviews with victims, the center has expanded to serve as a one-stop shop for programs to better identify and prevent abuse, and to help children and their caregivers better cope with its impact, Laurence says.

Once a week, for example, the center hosts a meeting of a multi-disciplinary team that includes representatives of the Cumberland County Department of Social Services, law-enforcement agencies, the district attorney’s office, physicians who examine children who may have been abused, school counselors, guardians ad litem, and mental-health providers.

The team reviews cases of children who have suffered severe physical abuse or sexual abuse, determine whether the child should undergo a medical exam, and identify resources the children and their families may need.

“All the people who need to be involved are in the room, and they can make a decision right there,” Laurence says. “It gets services to the children and family much faster.
The center also is increasing its focus on preventing child abuse.

With a three-year, $70,000 grant from the N.C. Children’s Trust Fund, the center this fall will introduce a program in the Cumberland County and Fort Bragg school systems to help parents, teachers and school counselors both identify and prevent abuse.

Expanding on programs it has offered to civic groups and youth-sports organizations, the center will focus initially on elementary and middle schools, working through parent associations and continuing education programs for teachers and school counselors.

“We want to provide this to anyone working with children,” Laurence says.

With an annual budget totaling $550,000, the center operates with a staff of four people working full-time and five working part-time, up from only three staff members overall three years ago.

And the share of government funds supporting the center’s budget has fallen to 30 percent, while support has grown from foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, individual contributions and fundraising events.

Last October, for example, the centered netted $45,000 from the Blue Jean Ball, with this year’s event, to be held Sept. 27, again scheduled at Highland Country Club.

And in April, the center netted $20,000 from hosting its first-ever American Girl Fashion Show.

The center also has begun publishing a quarterly newsletter that twice a year will include envelopes for contributions to its annual fund.

The organization also is considering a capital campaign that could begin as early as next year to support a move to larger offices to replace the space it now leases at 336 Ray Avenue in Fayetteville.

And the center continues to grow to keep pace with rising demand for services, Laurence says.

In April, for example, 50 children were interviewed at the center, and its interdisciplinary team reviewed the cases of 80 children.

The center recently launched a support group for non-offending caregivers whose children have been the victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and it is expanding a year-old program designed to prevent shaken-baby syndrome.

Funded a year ago with a $75,000 grant from Friends of Children, a local agency, the program hired two nurses to work with new parents in the Cape Fear Valley Health Care System.

Now, nurses employed by the system will continue to work with new parents, and the two nurses the center hired will work in the community with new parents whose children might be at-risk, such as those in low-income families, or with teen parents, or in families with a history of domestic violence.

“The need is great and we are trying to reduce the numbers of children abuse,” Laurence says, “and it’s an ongoing battle.”

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