The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

December 11, 2011

Scary numbers

Just For Kids Inc. serves Fayette, Raleigh and Wyoming counties by spreading awareness about child sexual abuse and helping children and families after abuse occurs.

The organization offers preventative training as well as child advocacy centers where trained forensic interviewers talk to child victims, aiding the investigation and minimizing further trauma.

According to Scott Miller, Just For Kids executive director, the organization interviewed 287 children across three counties last year.

“The latest research shows that only one in 10 children tell. If you extrapolate our statistic, it is likely that there have been 2,870 children sexually abused in Fayette, Raleigh and Wyoming counties last year. That is a pretty scary number — 287 is scary — but nearly 3,000 is so much more so,” he said.

Miller said that when he tells people that one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse, people really react, but he does not see it motivate them to do something about it.

“I think sometimes it is so terrible we don’t want to think about it,” he explained.

Particularly in the aftermath of the Penn State investigation, with people talking about it, he wants to see more people becoming trained to recognize and be aware of signs of child sexual abuse.

In a conversation with a woman from the division of rehab centers, Miller discovered that many people who come to the rehab center discover through their medical history that they have been victims of child abuse or child sexual abuse.

“The abuse does not end when you get the perpetrator out of the way. Child abuse is a lifelong trauma. It is something they carry with them throughout their life. For many of the kids who are traumatized, the potential is there for them to have negative futures,” he said.

This is one reason why counseling offered by Just For Kids is so important.

Just For Kids is in the process of having its counselor trained in a new, research-based therapy called trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

In addition to continuing to work with child sexual abuse victims and law enforcement agencies, Just For Kids is looking for ways to improve resources for reporters of all kinds of child abuse.

Miller met with a Child Abuse Committee of the Family Resource Network recently.

One of their major concerns is that there is not a help line that provides information and support for reporters of child abuse.

“What happens now is that if you call the 1-800 number to report abuse, you get someone in Charleston that gives you the number of a CPS worker in your county. If an individual gets brave enough to call and they tell them to call someone else, how many don’t make the next call?” Miller asked.

“This is just a dream right now, but wouldn’t it be great if that person could call a help line and tell their story and the help line would give support to that person and follow up on the abuse?”

Just For Kids is also starting a new TV campaign all year long that highlights what sexual abuse is and how people can reduce instances in the lives of people around them, he said.

“It is just 30 seconds at a time, but we have the opportunity to reach so many people. Hopefully, it will be impactful,” Miller expressed. “Awareness is the key. Having more people in the community keep in the mind that children are being sexual abused all the time and they can take simple steps to stop it can protect a lot of kids.”

Just For Kids is planning a second conference in May to focus on physical, emotional, sexual and neglect abuse.

A collaboration among many organizations, this conference will host speakers who will discuss the different forms of abuse.

The conference is funded though Healthy Families Healthy Children Coalition.

Miller also thanked United Way of Southern West Virginia for its generous support.

“Their support is so much more than financial,” he concluded. “Executive Director Margaret O’Neal’s passion for children and promotion of the work that we do is a really big piece of how they help our organization.”

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