According to Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, there were 684 suspected reports of child abuse in 2012. To the group, one case is too many.
The organization is ramping up its efforts to educate and raise awareness about the problem this month around the community. Especially since April is Child Abuse Awareness Month
“Child Abuse is one of those unspoken topics,” said Kim Adams, program coordinator with Twin Cedars. “The general public doesn’t want to bridge that subject, its still very taboo. But it’s important to hold community awareness events to keep the community informed, to let them know the resources are out there to serve child victims. The ultimate outcome to reduce child abuse and neglect.”
Adams is on the front lines in investigating suspected child abuse cases in Troup County. About four times a month, children walk through her front doors at the Coleman Community Center. There, they participate in a forensic interview that is observed by Adams and her staff, plus law enforcement officers, and someone from the Department of Child and Family Services.
Adams said they conduct about 200 to 225 forensic interviews per year. About one in four of those will warrant a forensic medical exam.
Cathy Cooley is a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for Twin Cedars. She provides full medical exams for children and young adults in suspected abuse cases. She takes forensic samples and video, which is then turned over to law enforcement officers.
“My main purpose is to make sure the child is okay,” she said. “I don’t just look for an injury. Because in 5 to 10 percent of children, there is no injury. But the child needs to know they’re okay. So my job basically is to say you’re okay … and you’re going to be okay.”
The children Adams and Cooley sees range in age from 3 to 18 years old. Twin Cedars also investigates child abuse allegations that involve adults with special needs, and children who may have witnessed a violent crime.
According to the Court Appointed Special Advocates web site, about 686,000 children are victims of child abuse and neglect each year. An estimated four children die each day. In addition, children who suffer from abuse and neglect are 53 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents, 38 percent more likely to be arrested as adults and 38 percent more likely to become violent criminals.
While the 2013 statistics were not yet available, according to Twin Cedars, 278 children in Troup County were involved in abuse investigations in 2012. There were 684 reports of suspected child abuse.
Those numbers may grow, as more people learn about the signs of child abuse. Twin Cedars plans to hold training sessions this month for their Darkness to Light program.
“We’re reaching out to everybody and anybody,” said McKenzie Jackson, the Darkness to Light coordinator for Troup County. “We want to teach them how to prevent child sexual abuse, what to look for, seeing and understanding the signs that children show who have been abused, and teach people about boundaries.”
Jackson said about 90 percent of children who were abused know their abuser. So far, the group has trained 424 people in Troup County. Jackson hopes that number is 800 people by June.
“We want to train 5 percent of the population in Troup County. Essentially, change 5 percent of the behavior of the population. Then you’ve made an impact,” said Twin Cedars Marketing and Development Coordinator Lisa Wicker. “That is the tipping point to be able make a difference. “
Wicker said that would mean reaching 2,500 people in the county over the next three years.
The two-hour comprehensive training session is on April 15 at the Coleman Center. Samantha Link, a Darkness to Light facilitator, said they’ve had teachers and employees at an insurance company take the course.
“Everybody is kind of on the lookout for these situations,” Link said. “Not just for your children, but other children that may come and play with your kids. You learn how to spot signs of abuse and what to do next.”
Anyone interested in taking the Darkness to Light training course on April 15, visit www.D2L.org or call Twin Cedars at 706-594-0290.
Twin Cedars also will hold its annual Child Abuse Awareness Program, called Pinwheels for Prevention, on April 16 at the Coleman Community Center.