(Oct. 17, 2014) Local child advocacy foundation the Cricket Center is asking for community support during its annual fundraising drive this weekend.
The Berlin center, opened in 2009, condenses the processes abused or neglected children have to go through, reducing both the time and the trauma of reliving excruciating situations multiple times in front of multiple agencies.
“The old way to investigate child abuse in Worcester County was the way everyone did it,” said Program Manager Wendy Myers. “When a report was made that someone suspected a child was being physically or sexually abused or neglected, what would happen is a social worker would go to school and would talk to the child there, and then the child would go back to class after talking about what may or may not have happened.
“Then the child would have to talk to law enforcement, go to the states attorney’s office and talk to a lawyer behind a big scary desk, and often times if there were injuries or suspected injuries they would have to sit at the waiting room over at the E.R. So there they are with everyone else in the emergency room with strangers. It was very traumatic.”
Myers said the old system, designed to protect children, was instead “re-traumatizing” them.
“In Huntsville, Ala. in the late 1980s they began this model of the child advocacy center where all the partnering agencies, rather than the child going to all of them, they partnered together in one location,” she said. “The child comes to this warm child-friendly environment, and all the professionals are already in place. It’s much less traumatic and it’s also very cost-effective.”
Inside the Cricket Center, the walls painted a soothing baby blue, a long row of tiles are adorned with more than 100 handprints colored in red, blue, yellow and green paint.
“Every child that comes into the child advocacy center is given the opportunity to make a handprint tile,” Myers said. “It’s a great way for them to know that they aren’t the first ones that have walked here.”
Noise canceling technology assures absolute privacy inside the interview space, decorated more like a living room than a clinician’s office. An adjacent room allows workers, including law enforcement, to view child testimony through a video monitoring system.
“When a child comes in we have specially trained forensic interviewers – those are our CPS workers – this way the child only has to tell the story one time,” Myers said. “The rest of the team can sit in here and witness the interview as it happens.”
The center houses the entire Worcester County Child Protective Services team and receives support from Atlantic General Hospital, along with the Life Crisis Center, social workers, Maryland State Police and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department.
Family advocates provide therapy and, in many cases, help abused children and their families connect with additional services including finding safe housing.
All those involved in the process meet on a regular basis.
“They talk every day, so, as the case evolves, everyone knows what’s going on,” Myers said. “We have weekly meetings to discuss what’s happening with cases, but they’re also able to talk every day about what they know. It’s a great cost-effective way, but more importantly it’s much less traumatic for our kids.”
From June 2013-July 2014, the Cricket Center received more than 500 referrals of child abuse in the county and investigated 98 cases of child sexual abuse. During that same span, the center provided more than 450 hours of trauma therapy, identified 37 sex offenders and saw to the arrest of 13 people for producing or distributing child pornography, leading to 149 years of jail time.
“That’s pretty impressive, I think,” Myers said.
Referrals can come from teachers, neighbors, friends or family.
“Some people have a hard time reporting,” said Myers. “We like to say, ‘if you have a suspicion, just report it.’ You’re not hurting anyone by doing it, but you might be saving a child. If there is nothing is happening, then nothing is happening.”
She said of the center’s personnel, “These people are professionally trained. Let them handle it and they’ll make that decision.”
The Cricket Center also is presenting “Jamaican a Difference, ‘Mon!” at Seacrets in Ocean City on Friday, Oct. 17 from 6-10 p.m. Local classic and modern rock group The Absolute will perform. Tickets, available online or at the door, are $65 and include heavy hors d’oeuvres and a two-hour open bar.
“Seacrets are very generous and good to us, and Mackey’s Bayside Bar and Grill are our platinum sponsor,” Myers said. “Pam and Macky Stansell are extraordinarily generous. They’ve donated a large amount of money, but also they talk about us and they believe in our program, which is wonderful.”
A silent auction of donated items held during the event also benefits the center.
“We are extremely grateful to the Worcester County community for everything they do for us,” Myers said. “We have over $10,000 in sponsors this year, which is absolutely critical. That will provide a lot of hours of therapy for our kids.”
Additional funding for the Cricket Center comes from state and local grants.
For more information, including prevention tips, call 410-641-0097 or visit www.thecricketcenter.com.