Midland nonprofit works to intervene and prevent child abuse



No matter how much people might want to ignore it, child abuse exists, even here in Midland County. This is why the Safe and Sound Child Advocacy Center is here to help these children.

Originally established in 1979 and focused solely on prevention, the Midland County Children’s Advocacy Center has grown to include child advocacy interventions and future therapy services. Their services have recently increased as child abuse COVID lockdown cases continue to rise.

Located at 2716 Jefferson Ave., the Children’s Advocacy Center assists children by interviewing children and adolescents with allegations of abuse or neglect, said Brittany Pochert, forensic interviewer. Children are generally under 17 years of age, unless specifically requested by the investigation team.

Pochert said that team is made up of law enforcement, child protection services and the Midland County District Attorney’s Office. Their interviews are recorded and sent to these agencies, so the child ideally only needs to be interviewed once.

She said she had specific training to have legally sound, but developmentally sensitive talks.

“I provide the service to the team, but also, my role is to make sure that we put the child first in the process,” said Pochert. “It’s very child-oriented.”

Pochert hears cases first through referrals from child protection services or law enforcement. She then questions the child as Lisa Daniels talks with the non-offending guardian (s) about where they are and what they need. She also provides crisis counseling and sits down and listens to hear what the guardian (s).

The center is designed to look like a house so that children feel like they are in a house, often asking when they could return, Daniels said. The interview is usually where the trip ends with the children and the Child Advocacy Center. However, she will organize follow-up meetings by phone and in person with the families until their case is closed.

These maintenance services are provided free of charge to families or guardians, Pochert said.

“Everything about (our work) is a challenge, honestly,” said Pochert. “Doing the work, talking about the work, but it’s also very important. We are very fortunate that all of the services we offer here are free. So I hope no one needs us, but if they do, it won’t cost them anything.

The organization also works to prevent domestic and sexual abuse of children. Executive director Michele Waskevich said they had a prevention and education specialist who visits schools and the community to teach children, teachers and the public to recognize the signs of abuse.

They also teach the public to recognize the signs of abuse. Some of the signs that young children are experiencing sexual abuse include a regression to past behaviors such as thumb sucking, odd bathroom behaviors, resistance to taking clothes off at appropriate times, and nightmares. Teens may begin to self-harm, fear privacy, show signs of depression, have poor hygiene, changes in school performance, among other signs if they have been sexually abused.

Many children and adolescents can also fall victim to grooming, when people develop a close relationship with a child to gain their trust and perpetrate sexual abuse. The abuser can also coerce, deceive, threaten the child or make the child feel guilty for the abuse. Sometimes parents or guardians can also be trained to gain their trust and allow them to spend time with their children, Daniels said.

Domestic violence can sometimes be easier to see because bruises and marks can be left on a child afterwards. Stories of how a child got these marks may also not add up, Waskevich said.

Daniels said parents and guardians may mistake some of these signs for “typical teenage behavior” or a child going through a stage. It is often the children who come forward for people to report the abuse.

“Unfortunately, many signs of sexual abuse can be easily brushed under the rug like, ‘Oh, it’s just that they’re teenagers,’ or ‘He’s a picky kid,’ or, ‘I just don’t know. not what’s up, hopefully it’s a stage and they get through it, ”Daniels said. “But it’s not, it’s because there is sexual abuse. That’s what’s difficult about reporting.”

The children’s advocacy center also strives to publicize its work and the issue of child abuse. Waskevich said one in ten children nationwide would be sexually abused before they turn 18, and the Midland Advocacy Center interviews an average of 150 children a year. However, that number will be exceeded this year due to the growing number of cases during COVID-19 closures.

Although there has been a decrease in reports, cases of child abuse have increased during the closures, Waskevich said. Reporting fell 30% last year as children were increasingly at home and out of the eyes of commissioned reporters, such as teachers. She predicts that children’s advocacy centers will see spikes in child abuse cases progress over the next two years.

It’s also a challenge to get the word out because child abuse isn’t something a lot of people want to talk about, Waskevich said. Unlike other organizations, Safe and Sound cannot highlight successes with its clients because the topics are confidential. It also makes it difficult to obtain financing.

“When we go to events it’s hard because nobody wants to come to our table because it’s the sad table,” Daniels said. “Honestly, it’s really hard sometimes.”

Safe and Sound is currently planning its Arts and Advocacy fundraiser for the first week of February. Daniels said they also plan to add a free counseling program for families. She said many families are on waiting lists for counseling / therapy, with waits ranging from 2 to 16 weeks.

Waskevich said people can help by donating money or purchasing wishlist items on their website. They also encourage people to talk about child abuse and advertise on social media.

“It’s not that children can’t survive and thrive after being sexually abused,” Waskevich said. “We can help them; all is not pessimistic. We can help them be successful in life if we support them through this agency, but we need to talk about it.

“We need to let people know that it’s okay to talk about it. Children can talk to someone they trust to tell (them) that something is wrong, that there is no safety. We need to let children know that (and) we need to let adults know that it is their responsibility to keep children safe. We cannot but talk about these things.

If a parent or someone else suspects that a child is being abused, they should believe the child, listen to what they have to say while remaining calm, respect privacy, provide support and report the case. child protection services at 855-444-3911. Information on the signs of child abuse can be found on the Child Advocacy website.



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