Changing lives for the better

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 21, 2017

LaGRANGE – The 9th annual celebration of Child Abuse Awareness in Troup County had a fantastic turnout with law enforcement, child advocates and local leaders filling every seat available, ready to reaffirm their commitment to use the child abuse protocol that was first introduced in the county during the 90s.

The annual event takes place in April of each year in recognition of National Child Abuse Awareness month.

“Troup County takes abuse of children very seriously,” said Sheri Cody, executive director of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services. “… Even should a child be abused in Troup County, all the partners who are involved with that child follow a protocol that is clear and the same to make sure that we all respond quickly, sensitively and thoroughly from investigation to prosecution. So, we are here to celebrate our community’s commitment to collaboration and teamwork, and the great job that we are doing together.”

According to those involved with the process, that collaboration has been crucial to successfully helping local children who find themselves in awful situations, and the changes to that protocol as studies found better ways to deal to do things has only increased its effectiveness.

“Since its inception and adoption back in the early 90s, the protocol has integrated the recurring theme of collaboration – that we never waiver on that,” said Kim Adams of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Troup County. “… The protocol is an ever evolving document, and we continue to build on that.”

Each of the speakers at the event expressed their gratitude for the hard work that has been done for local children by the groups that serve them, while recognizing the long road that still lay ahead.

“As I stand here, I recognize, what a beautiful day the Lord has provided for us to gather and remember these children, but even in Troup County, LaGrange, Hogansville and West Point today, probably there will be somewhere that a child is being mistreated or being abused,” said Sheriff James Woodruff. “… Even though we live in a wonderful community – a great community – we strive every day to make it better for those coming behind us. There are a lot of kids who suffer every day that we don’t even – regular citizens don’t even know about, so thank y’all, the ones that are on the front line, and others in the court system… thank y’all for standing up and fighting for those who have no voice.”

According to LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar, there are about 186 cases of child abuse in LaGrange a year, and while some cases were single occurrences, others represented years of abuse.

“When we came together to make this protocol, it was a day that heaven rejoiced,” said District Attorney Peter Skandalakis. “Sometimes we think that our efforts don’t make a difference, but they do make a difference. Thinking about the response of Twin Cedars and the child advocacy center, for years we’ve been asking for a child advocacy center here in Troup County, and we finally got it. We got one before anyone in the circuit had one. … So we are making progress.”

That progress has included quicker, better informed responses to cases of child abuse which if progress continues, should result in more safe children in good homes.

“As a result of the good work over now two and a half decades, we have seen these cases resolved in many instances in a way that speaks well of law enforcement and the case worker and for our community, but more importantly to the victim,” said Dekmar, who emphasized the importance of the process for getting the best outcome for everyone involved, and getting help for both the victim and the person at fault.

As the ceremony closed with the flutter of butterfly wings, one mission resounded from each of the speakers: to continue working together for the children most in need within the county.

“Everything we do needs to be towards one end that is in fact making sure that we are producing a safe, healthy community for children to thrive and adults to succeed,” said Tom Rawlings, the director of the Office of the Child Advocate and keynote speaker for the event.