Advocacy Centers – what are they?
Sue Ann comes into her third grade class with her head down. (Sign #1) She usually pops in with a friend on each arm, waving to her teacher, Mrs. Adams. Mrs. Adams curiously notes that Sue Ann is wearing a long sleeve dress and a dirty hemline brushes the floor. (Sign #2) It is almost time for school to be out for the summer, and the temperature is in the high 80’s. Sue Ann goes immediately to her desk and starts hunting for something.
Mrs. Adams greets several more children, and then casually walks over to Sue Ann’s desk and initiates a conversation, “You look lovely this morning, Sue Ann. Your long dress is different from the shorts that you usually wear.”
The 8-year-old answers, “My new Daddy said I have to wear it because I forgot my pencil to do my homework.” Tears form in her eyes. She goes on to explain, “My new Daddy got really mad.”
Now Mrs. Adams is slightly alarmed. She inquires, “Sometimes parents get angry with children when they are really angry about something else. Maybe your new Daddy was having a really hard day.”
Sue Ann is now crying and answers, “Then why did he hit me? I didn’t do anything. Well, I did forget my pencil.”
Mrs. Adams walks Sue Ann into the hallway just outside the door so that the other children can not see or hear the next part of the conversation.” Mrs. Adams goes to inquire. “Sue Ann, I see that you are really upset. Where did your new Daddy hit you?”
Sue Ann pulls her long dress up to reveal dark bruises down both of her legs. She pulls up her sleeves, and there are burn marks on her arms. Mrs. Adams calls the office and requests a teacher’s aide to cover her class, and Mrs. Adams walks Sue Ann up to the Principal’s office.
Mrs. Adams says, “Sue Ann, will you tell Mrs. Salter what you told me and show her what happened?”
Sue Ann has now repeated her story twice…once to her teacher, and once to the Principal. Each time more tears fall. She will repeat the story again to a police office, a doctor, a therapist, a case worker, and a prosecutor. That is seven times. Each time the story is told, Sue Ann gets to relive the experience – AND the story changes just a little bit.
Sue Ann is the reason Advocacy Centers are popping up all over the country, The centers are filled with dedicated individuals from multiple agencies all “housed” under one roof. The team of professionals work in close proximity. The result is less emotional stress for the child victim of abuse, neglect, or abandonment, more efficient information sharing, a dramatic decrease in the time it takes to investigate the case, and an increase in prosecution rates. Children do not have to tell their story over and over again.
Sue Ann is now in fifth grade and looking forward to middle school. Her “new Daddy” is in prison for child abuse. Advocacy Centers (like the Escambia and Santa Rosa Kids House) are a powerful tool in combating the war against child maltreatment in our own communities.