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.”
What constitutes sexual abuse?
Cindy Waddell, forensic interviewer for Just For Kids Inc., points out that many individuals may not be sure what constitutes child sexual abuse, or they feel that it only, or mainly, includes intercourse.
“There are many different aspects of child sexual abuse and there are a lot of things that lead up to it, including extra attention and grooming,” she said.
Often times an abuser offers to buy the child something before abuse begins.
In addition, fondling, digital penetration, exposure to pornography and taking explicit photos of a child constitute sexual abuse.
“A lot of times child sexual abuse incorporates administering drugs to children or threats to prevent them from telling. Often they are not a direct threat of harm, but a threat that bad things will happen if the children do tell,” Waddell explained.
The age-old idea of “stranger danger” is also a misconception, she said.
“Our statistics show that it is almost always someone that a child knows. Child predators work to gain the trust of the child and the parents. If someone is very eager to watch your kids all the time, that is a sign to be wary,” she added.
Attend a public forum
Individuals can make a difference to help stop child sexual abuse, said Scott Miller, executive director of Just For Kids Inc.
Just For Kids will sponsor a public forum from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 10 at McBee’s Irish Pub in Uptown Beckley. The purpose of the forum, “The #1 Question. Is it Good for Children,” is to find out what public concerns are and what issues the public would like to see addressed by policy makers and the Legislature, said Miller.
Just For Kids has invited mayors, county commissioners and policy makers from Fayette, Raleigh and Wyoming counties to attend, and the public is welcome.
Another way to help protect children is to become a Steward of Children by taking a three-hour workshop and learning the seven steps to protect children.
“Research has shown that for every person who is trained, 10 children will not have to suffer the trauma of sexual abuse,” he said.
“We are working with organizations in the community, like churches, schools, and athletic programs, to train staff with Stewards of Children training. I know from personal experience and from talking to a lot of teachers, that they really don’t know what their responsibilities are. There has to be better awareness and more training for every mandated reporter,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can get to the place where it will never be acceptable for Joe Paterno to say ‘I thought I was doing what I needed to do,’” expressed Miller.
Individuals can also make a difference through their donations.
Just For Kids is funded 50 percent by state and federal funds and 50 percent by private foundation grants and individual donations.
“All our services are free and we really do rely on community support for the work that we do,” he said.
The West Virginia Development Office has recently given Just For Kids Neighborhood Investment Program Credits for tax credit on donations over $500, he added.
For information on donating or attending the Stewards of Children workshop, call 304-255-4834.
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