Advocacy Center: more than blue ribbons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2000

Have you seen all the blue ribbons on the doors of local homes and businesses? The number of these would indicate that the second annual Blue Ribbon Campaign is going well for the Butler County Children's Advocacy Center.

Center Director Edith Williams confirmed that presumption for me this week. Although the fundraiser will continue through the end of the month, Williams said things are looking good for the Center's goal of raising more than $3,000 during the month. The campaign is held in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month (April) and while one of its purposes is to raise funds for the Center, Williams said raising awareness of child abuse and of the Advocacy Center are both important parts of the campaign as well.

"Hopefully, when people see all those blue ribbons it will remind them we're here," she said.

Williams has a passion for helping children. You can see that in her eyes when she talks about some of the problems she sees every day.

The Advocacy Center was formed in 1997 to create a central place where children who are victims of abuse or neglect could go to receive services. Prior to the center, a victim had to repeat the same horrible story time and time again to agency after agency and counselor after counselor.

Now, representatives of all concerned agencies and professional counselors are able to interview victims one time in the comfort of the home-like facility at the Advocacy Center. That avoids the need for a child to repeat the story of abuse, a process proven to revictimize and further traumatize the child.

While there is still a questionable void in the legal system as to how perpetrators are punished, the Advocacy Center does wonders for healing the victims. In addition to being a central point for agencies to visit with child victims, the Center provides weekly counseling and psychological care for abuse victims.

Community awareness of the problem is another priority of the Center.

On Monday, education coordinator Gloria Robinson will be visiting the schools in the area, handing out bookmarks and blue ribbons to students to wear for the week. She said she urges area schools, businesses and individuals to support the blue ribbon campaign and the children of Butler County.

How big is the problem of child abuse in Butler County? Nobody knows. But it's too big. In the Center's first full year, 77 child victims were served. Forty are being served right now. That's too many. On the other hand that's not enough. For every child being helped, you can rest assured there are two not being helped because the abuse or neglect is not reported or is covered up.

Abuse and neglect know no boundaries. Race, religion, social status, age and sex have nothing to do with whether an innocent child is abused or neglected. Abuse doesn't have to come from a parent, either.

What can you do to help?

-Show you support the Advocacy Center by making a contribution or becoming a volunteer.

-Report a problem when you know or suspect it exists. DO NOT WAIT. If you fear dealing with the authorities, go to the Advocacy Center at 107 Caldwell Street. They will handle the necessary reporting for you.

-Do not try to handle an investigation yourself. Report what you see to the proper authorities, and let them handle it. Not reporting abuse for fear of getting someone in trouble is a terrible mistake. You might be a child's only hope. Find someone you are comfortable reporting the problem to and let them take the appropriate action. There is a long list of professionals that are required to make a report of anything they see or hear that might represent child sexual abuse, physical or emotional child abuse, or neglect:

Hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, mental health professionals or any other person called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child when such child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect shall be required to report or cause a report to be made of the same orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately followed by a written report to a duly constituted authority. When a report is made to a law enforcement official, such official subsequently shall inform the department of human resources of the report so that the department can carry out its responsibility to provide protective services to the respective child or children.

If you'd like to help, contact the Butler County Children's Advocacy Center at (334) 382-8584.

Eric Bishop is publisher of the Greenville Advocate. His column appears on Saturday.