'Someone touched me' turns your whole world upside down

 

Imagine your child, grandchild, niece or nephew sharing a secret that a person you trust has sexually abuse them.

Hearing these three words ‘someone touched me’, turns a family upside down. Children are doing the right thing by telling but their world often falls apart around them from doing so. In the midst of the devastation parents and caregivers reach out to the Child Advocacy Center and the Child Protective Investigative Team for help.

The overall goal of Ashley’s Place (Sumner Child Advocacy Center)is the happiness and well-being of children. Chartered in 1999; the Center strives to deliver comprehensive, coordinated, child-focused services to child victims and their families.

The Center provides a Multidisciplinary Team approach to the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse. This means that we believe that the combined knowledge of Child Protective Services, Law Enforcement, prosecution, medical, mental health professionals and victim advocacy services provides the most effective response to child abuse allegations.

The Center provides a child friendly environment designed to create a level of comfort for children and families as opposed to being interviewed in police departments, schools and/or busy office settings. Creating a level of comfort and privacy is important for children to feel comfortable in sharing information of what may have happened to them with the professionals identified to protect them.

The Center employs a trained forensic interviewer who specializes in the dynamics of child abuse, child development and non-leading interview techniques. The Forensic Interview process is a developmentally sensitive process to gather facts of what may have happened to the child assisting the other team members in providing a road map for the next steps. In 2015 the Center conducted more than 215 child forensic interviews.

Law Enforcement and the Child Protective Services worker are able to observe the child Forensic Interview without exposing the child to multiple different professionals throughout the interview process. This allows each team member to ensure they are obtaining the information they need without asking the child to talk about traumatic events repeatedly.

Any Child who has a disclosure of severe abuse is eligible for therapy services through the Child Advocacy Center. The Center provides specific trauma focused therapy services; helping children and families to process and heal from the trauma they have experienced. In 2015 Ashley’s Place provided more than 400 therapy sessions to 36 child victims.

Our Victim Advocate ensures that families are linked with the services they need. This position is crucial in ensuring that children and families do not fall through the cracks and that they are emotionally supported and prepared for court proceedings throughout the prosecution process. Our victim advocate assisted with over 450 children and families receiving various services through Ashley’s Place in 2015.

In February of this year Ashley’s Place added a fully trained service/facility dog. Ophira is a 2 year old yellow lab who has been a great addition to the team. We are one of five Tennessee jurisdictions now using a facility dog to provide a sense of calm, security and non-judgmental support during the investigative and legal proceedings when professionals have to respond to children in an impartial and reserved manner. Ophira has met our Sumner County Judges and they are excited to be working with her and have welcomed her into their courtrooms.

Parents are devastated when their child’s innocence is violated. They often feel embarrassed, ashamed and betrayed. The Center allows them an opportunity to work with the professionals responsible for the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse while reducing further victimization to their child.

Ashley’s Place will be joining forces with Sumner County CASA to plant a pinwheel garden in recognition of the children served throughout Sumner County. Please join us at noon on April 22 in attending a reception to honor the efforts of both Advocacy groups and celebrate that every child deserves a great childhood. Reception held at 182 W Franklin St in Gallatin.

Watch for more information this month from Ashley’s Place (Child Advocacy Center) to learn about Darkness to Light’s 5 steps to protecting children and the work being done throughout Sumner County to protect and serve children and families.

By Amy Burke-Salyers is the executive director of Ashley’s Place

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