Mention the words child abuse and people begin to shudder, and a conversation about the topic is almost impossible.
People do not want to acknowledge child abuse happens, and they certainly don’t want to talk about it. It’s almost as if, “If we don’t talk about it, then it will go away.”
Sadly, that is not the case. Child abuse is rampant throughout the world, and Blount County is no exception.
In an effort to raise awareness, April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month. The goal is to bring child abuse prevention measures to the forefront, and help people understand what can be done to make children safer.
Fortunately, several local agencies are working diligently to help combat child abuse.
The Blount County Department of Human Resources, the Blount County Children’s Center, and the Blount County District Attorney’s office are just three local agencies that make ending child abuse a priority.
Blount County DHR
Over the past 12 months, Blount County DHR has received 841 reports of suspected child abuse. That’s an average of over 70 new cases per month for Blount County alone. Many of these reports are substantiated, thus causing children to be placed in safe environments such as another relative’s home or foster care.
DHR Senior Service Supervisor Donna Southern said, “We are seeing an upward trend in sexual abuse and domestic violence. Drugs also continue to be a big player in child abuse cases.” Southern noted that the department has seen a recent increase of heroin use.
With 110 children currently in foster care in Blount County, the need for foster homes is great. The agency is currently recruiting foster families, and anyone interested is encouraged to contact Carol Anne Jordan at 274-5247.
Before a child is taken into DHR custody, workers try to locate relatives who are willing to take on the enormous responsibility of caring for children in their extended family.
This is not an easy task. Imagine having to deal with the chaos of new family members occupying your home, very little to no financial support, continued drama among the family members, court, DHR visits, etc.
Service Supervisor Alicia Tolbert said, “When children have to be placed outside the home, DHR looks to place children in the least restrictive placement. We are so grateful for the relatives who have stepped up to raise the children who have been victims of child abuse. It’s crazy, yet amazing. Relatives step up with little to no assistance to ensure their loved ones are safe. If there are no relatives willing to extend their home to the children, then we have to place them into foster care.”
The Blount County Children’s Center has opened 174 new cases over the past year. Providing therapy, support, and other services, they often work in conjunction with DHR, the DA’s office, as well as other agencies to help victims cope with the abuse.
Blount County Children’s Center
The Children’s Center serves as the coordination point for all of the agencies involved in the case. With this model, the child victim is placed at the center, and all of the agencies work together to serve the child, thus eliminating the family from having to go from agency to agency around the county.
With all agencies at a coordinated point, the multidisciplinary team works together in a coordinated fashion so that the best decisions are made for the safety and well-being of the child.
This model was first developed in Huntsville in 1985 and is the standard for best practice – not only across the country, but around the world.
In 1989, Blount County became one of the first communities to adopt this model, establish the Children’s Center, and form a multidisciplinary team.
Center director Jim Ed Clayton noted that the community has been very supportive of the Children’s Center for nearly 30 years.
Blount County District Attorney
Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey is truly passionate about getting justice for children. Casey said, “As a society, we do not want to believe that child abuse or child sex abuse exists. Child abuse cases are the most difficult cases to prove. First, you have to get over the hurdle that most jurors don’t think it happens in Blount County. Then, once you get them to understand that it does, you have to prove your case.
“Other than homicide cases, child sex abuse cases are the most important cases that we try in the criminal justice system. If I were told today that I only get to handle one type of case for the rest of my career, I would choose child abuse cases. There is no greater feeling than getting justice for children that couldn’t protect themselves from a horrific situation.”
Despite this huge number of possible child abuse incidents, there are so many cases that go unreported. Why?
“I don’t want to get involved,” “I’m sure he/she would never do that,” “It doesn’t happen here,” and “The child is lying, or being forced to say these things.” These are just a few of the excuses people use to justify not reporting suspected child abuse.
What can you do to help?
Report any suspected child abuse cases, volunteer, become a foster parent or mentor, or make a monetary donation that can be used for a child’s basic necessities.
Children are a precious gift and our future. They deserve everything we can do to protect them.