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GUEST COLUMN: Child abuse victims need a village

GUEST COLUMN: Child abuse victims need a village

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Was 2020 a very different year for you? Of course; it was for everyone.

At CARE House of the Pee Dee, it was a very different year for us, too. CARE House of the Pee Dee, a child advocacy center, serves local child victims of abuse and maltreatment.

An estimated 400,000 fewer children were seen at children’s advocacy centers (CAC) across the United States than in previous years. While we would love to believe that this is due to a dramatic reduction in the mistreatment of children, sadly we know that this is not the truth. Children rely on interaction for someone to suspect and report abuse. They are unlikely to do this on their own. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

CARE House of the Pee Dee is a single location where children are safe to tell their story of abuse, receive a head-to-toe forensic medical that ensures their body is healthy and to emotionally and mentally begin healing from their trauma with help from highly qualified therapists.

At CARE House, we believe children heal quicker when their supportive family members are also helped. Advocacy and treatment services are offered to those family members. During 2020, we served 641 area children who were alleged to be victims of maltreatment. This is fewer than the over 700 children seen in 2019, so the question is, where is our village?

As a CAC, we work closely with law enforcement, social services and the solicitor’s office to make sure that after a case has come to light that children and families do not fall through the cracks. We all work together to provide wrap-around services.

However, we are not likely to be the ones to initially discover or suspect abuse. You see, that comes from the village. A village is made up of school personnel, church personnel, medical providers, babysitters, grocery store workers, family members, friend’s parents and more.

Village members are not limited, and the village grows in strength with every member it adds. Our village is strongest when we are engaged and concerned in the welfare of others, especially children. It might sound cliché, but the children truly are our future.

When asked about quarantine, most people would say the upside was getting more time with their family, but consider that scenario in the eyes of an abused child.

If you know even one child, you are part of the village, so you may ask, “What can I do?” The first thing you can do is to talk about child abuse. It isn’t the easiest subject, but it is an epidemic that breeds in secrecy.

You can help end this problem by bringing it out of the dark. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse or neglect in the past year. Each of these children will need a village to escape abuse, get services, heal and go on to become healthy adults.

Educate yourself and others on the signs of abuse. If you have children, provide anatomical names for their body parts. Teach them that they should never keep body secrets from you, and that no one should hurt them.

Most importantly, help them understand people within and outside of your family they can turn to for help. Encourage all children that if someone were to hurt them, they should tell and keep telling different adults until someone helps them.

Other ways you can be involved are supporting those who do the daily work. This can be done through a thank you, donations of supplies, volunteering, attending an event or monetary support. Each year United Way of Florence County plans and coordinates a Day of Caring where community members and businesses can do tangible things for local nonprofits.

Another option is to consider your talents. Many nonprofits, like ours, do not have funding for marketing, grant writing, event planning, educating and decorating, and they easily could use your talent to benefit those we serve or the organization.

As a United Way member organization, we are thankful for the support United Way gives, and we are thankful for the other member nonprofits. We can reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect by lessening financial strains to pay bills, making food available and providing shelter. Together, each United Way member organization as well as the United Way of Florence County works together to strengthen our village.

Since April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, as you pass our location on 2nd Loop Road, notice the 641 pinwheels blowing in the breeze, each representing a child in our area for whom 2020 was even worse. Let it be a reminder that you are the village.

The national symbol for child abuse prevention is the blue pinwheel. Each year CARE House of the Pee Dee plants a pinwheel for each child served the previous year.

CARE House of the Pee Dee is a partner agency of United Way. If you want to get involved or to learn more, visit thecarehouse.com or call 843-629-0236, or visit uwflorence.org or call 843-662-2407.

Meg Temple is the executive director of CARE House of the Pee Dee.

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