By Amanda Adams
One Loud Voice for Children
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. Since 1983, the United States has observed this month as a time to bring awareness to the devastating problem of child abuse in this country and offer prevention solutions through information and education. Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi is a statewide organization that serves children, who have been abused, through its network of 11 child advocacy centers in different areas of the state. Last year, the child advocacy centers in our state served 2,554 children.
At Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi, our tag line is One Loud Voice. It’s woven into everything we do. We bring together multidisciplinary teams to streamline the process of child abuse situations. Our goal is always to put the needs of the child first, and we bring all services under one umbrella. By bringing together many disciplines, including law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical health, victim advocacy and child advocacy, we work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases. We believe that children deserve access to expert services and professionals after an allegation of abuse occurs.
In the wake of so many sexual abuse incidents hidden within large organizations, many have been outraged at the lack of action taken on the part of those who suspected abuse; however, those of us working in this field know that this is not an isolated situation. There are far more cases of abuse NOT being reported. Only one in ten children who have been sexually abused will tell someone; therefore, it takes the courage of one adult who suspects abuse to take that step for them. It is not the job of the reporter to provide proof—just suspicion is enough to make a report.
We teach children to look both ways before crossing the street, we take on the responsibility of locking up toxic cleaners and we teach children the importance of wearing seatbelts. Yet so often, we are not taking on the responsibility to teach our children about body safety. We are leaving it up to children to know how to tell adults, “No.” Abuse CAN happen to the children that you know. Yes, children in your neighborhood, in your church and in your school.
Child abuse is a community issue and it takes all of us to keep children safe. Although no one enjoys talking about the subject, it is a very real problem in Mississippi. We must have honest and open conversations about it, even though it may be uncomfortable. Together, we can be the voice that ends child abuse.
There are several ways you can help and become involved:
- Start by learning the signs and the myths of child abuse.
- Contact your local child advocacy center and request a prevention program for your church, your community group, or your school to teach parents how to keep their children safe. Remember, it is the adult’s responsibility to keep children safe. Although it is important to teach children prevention tips and when to tell an adult if something uncomfortable has happened to them, adults must take on the responsibility to keep children out of harm’s way.
- Talk to your church, school, or other community programs on the policies they have in place—or need to put in place—to establish a safe environment for children such as eliminating opportunities for one child/one adult situations, conducting background checks on volunteers and employees, and establishing setting up a prevention education program for volunteers and children.
- Donate to or volunteer at the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi or at your local child advocacy center.
- By law, you are a mandated reporter. If you suspect something, say something. Please call the Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1.800.222.8000 or complete a written report online at msabusehotline.mdhs.ms.gov.
In May and July, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi, Families First of North Mississippi and Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services will host 3 free sessions of “Chaplains for Children”—Tupelo, May 16–17; Flowood, May 18–19 and Gulfport, July 13–14.
We are asking clergy, chaplains, youth ministers, faith leaders, seminary students, counselors and other members of faith communities to attend. This course will prepare attendees to recognize and respond to cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. We will discuss the prevalence of child abuse, the impact of abuse on spirituality, the interest offenders have in churches, and will offer suggestions for working to assist a child in coping with maltreatment. The training will also discuss ideal child protection policies for a faith-based institution, including handling a situation in which a convicted sex offender seeks to join a congregation.
For more information, please visit childadvocacyms.org/events. Please encourage your faith leaders to attend and find out if your church has policies in place to protect children. Together, we can be one loud voice for children.
Amanda Adams is the Special Projects Director for the Children’s Advocacy Centers of MS. www.childadvocacyms.org.