By Sarah Plummer
At the Just For Kids second annual recognition dinner, Executive Director Scott Miller noted that child abuse and neglect has dropped nationwide for the fifth straight year.
“We don’t really see this on a daily basis because we are interviewing children every week, but to know a difference is being made is exciting news for everyone,” he said.
But while the progress is good to see, Miller reminded those present that the national numbers are still staggering, with 61,000 children reporting sexual abuse each year in the United States. Just For Kids estimates only one in 10 children reports abuse, which means as many as 600,000 children are sexually abused each year nationally.
“That is a number none of us can really fathom. But I know there is hope for children and their families because of the strong teamwork of child advocacy centers around the country,” he said.
And while the recognition dinner showcased the work of six “champions of children,” each one of them expressed the value of teamwork among law enforcement, mental health professionals, medical professionals and Child Protective Services.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” explained honoree Kathy Brunty, director of Wyoming County Family Resource Network. “But it takes a team within that village to protect a child, and our team is strong.”
“None of the people who do the work we do, do it for accolades,” added honoree Joe Bullington, Region IV regional DHHR director. “You engage with a child and have them tell you their deepest and scariest secrets. That’s what we have to do to keep these kids safe, but we never get to see all the good you do for families and children. You know you are making it safe, you know you are providing a much-needed service, but you don’t know 20 years from now how you impacted a child’s life.”
Miller explained that the child advocacy center movement is a relatively new one, with the first center in the United States only 15 years old. Now in its 10th year, Just for Kids has strong relationships with their agencies.
Thursday Just For Kids recognized six individuals from Wyoming, Raleigh and Fayette counties who have gone above and beyond to help children and families in the community as well as strengthen Just For Kids’ community network.
Detective Sgt. Glen Chapman, chief of detectives with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, is what Miller called an “everyday champion of children.”
“Our work is challenging and law enforcement play a crucial role, not only in keeping children safe, but in the approach they take to reduce the trauma for the child,” he said.
Chapman goes above and beyond to make sure children get the support they need through Just For Kids.
Raleigh County Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Bare has been with the sheriff’s office for 21 years. For the last 15, he has worked directly with CPS on child abuse and sexual assault cases.
“It is very unusual to have someone who has been on board for so long. Law enforcement officers have one of the hardest jobs and being a first responder is more than challenging,” said Miller.
Chapman told those in attendance that he has seen positive changes since Just For Kids has been involved in issues of child sexual abuse.
Bullington has worked with DHHR since 1988. Today he oversees 13 counties in the state, founded Kids First in Wyoming County and has been the vice chair of the Wyoming County Toy Fund for 14 years.
Miller said Bullington has been crucial in building relationships with DHHR employees across the three counties Just For Kids serve.
Joyce Pitsenbarger, director of Education for Raleigh General Hospital, has been involved with Just for Kids since its beginning and was intrinsic in getting medical professionals, CPS, law enforcement officers and mental health professional to agree to response protocols that work for everyone, Miller said.
Heather Lucas, Fayette County Child Protective Services supervisor, “works with her staff and lets them know the work they do is important, and Just For Kids has a place in it,” said Miller.
Brunty has worked with youth and families since she was 16. She has served the Family Resource Network for 16 years and has been recognized nationally for several of her projects, said Miller.
Brunty recently accepted a position on the Just for Kids board of directors.
Also at the dinner, Sgt. Chapman presented Just for Kids with a $500 donation from the Fayette County Fraternal Order of Police. He challenged the Raleigh County chapter to match the donation and hopes to encourage other counties to try to raise money for child advocacy centers.
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