Children’s Advocacy Center helps minimize secondary trauma to local kids

  • Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin Inc. Executive Director Irene Woods. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin is at 56 Wisdom Way in Greenfield. It moved to that spot in June 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2019 10:25:38 PM

GREENFIELD — The executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin Inc. will tell you it’s unfortunate that there is child abuse of any type, anywhere, but there is, and this area is not immune.

The center will hold a meet and greet Wednesday at Blue Rock Restaurant & Bar, One Ashfield St. in Shelburne Falls from 5 to 7 p.m., so that people in West County can learn more about the center with Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. There will be free appetizers and a cash bar.

“About 15 percent of our cases come from all of the towns in West County, so we wanted to make sure they know about us,” CAC’s Executive Director Irene Woods, who is part-time, said. “We keep statistics. The majority of our cases come from Greenfield, Athol and Turners Falls.”

Woods said those three towns make up about two-thirds of the cases the center handles. The center’s mission is based on the fundamental premise that all children have the right to be safe and protected from harm.

Woods said minimizing secondary trauma to a child victim is very important to the center and all who work with it, including child protection officials, law enforcement, prosecution, victim advocacy and medical and mental health officials. She said that’s why the handling of every case is streamlined.

“We want to reduce the stress of the child victim and the non-offending family members,” Woods said. “Our main focus is the child. We don’t want a child to have to tell his or her story repeatedly.”

So when it is suspected that a child has been abused, he or she is brought in to the center and interviewed in an age-appropriate, child-friendly room. The parent or guardian is not allowed in with the child during the interview, because it can be distracting or inhibiting to him or her, Woods said.

A trained child interview specialist interviews the child while the rest of the team — someone from the prosecutor’s office, the police and the state Department of Children and Families — observes a video of the interview, which is projected in an adjoining room, Woods said.

“Based on what we learn, we make referrals to other agencies, like medical, mental health, victim advocacy and more — all done on a case-by-case basis,” Woods said. “We make sure the child gets all of the care and support he or she needs.”

The local agency is supported by the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance and by Massachusetts Office for Victims Assistance. Woods said the rest of its funding comes from donations, as well as two large fundraisers: its annual breakfast and its annual golf tournament.

State and national statistics show that without intervention, a third of abused and neglected children will continue the cycle and abuse later with their own children. Statistics also show that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused, and two out of three adults who were sexually abused early in life never told anyone during their childhood.

Woods said the meet and greet will give people an opportunity to meet people associated with the center and learn more about it and its mission.

“We just want to make the (hilltowns) aware of what we can offer them,” Woods said.

The center also employs a case manager who works with children and families to connect them with services and a 30-hour-a-week sexual exploitation coordinator.

According to the center’s web site, people can give when shopping at Big Y by purchasing a $2.50 community bag through the Giving Tag Program. One dollar will be donated to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin ​​​​​​ if a shopper buys a bag and uses the attached giving card.

Signs of child abuse include unexplained injuries, changes in a child’s behavior or eating or sleeping habits, fear of going home, lack of personal care or hygiene, risk-taking behaviors, inappropriate sexual behaviors or changes in school performance or attendance.

If a child discloses abuse, remain calm, believe the child, allow the child to talk about it, show interest and concern, reassure and support the child and take action. Do not panic or overreact, press the child to talk about it, promise something you can’t control, confront the offender, blame the child or minimize his or her feelings or overwhelm the child with questions.

Woods said the model the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin uses includes law enforcement and child protective services acting first to make sure the child is safe from the abuser. The child is then brought to the center, where the join investigation and interview begins. Once the case has been reviewed, decisions are made about how best to proceed, including the case being presented to the district attorney for prosecution, and a suspect is either charged or the case is refused. Either the child is removed from the home, a case is opened for services or the case is closed.

If you suspect child abuse, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4 A CHILD or 800-422-4453, or visit: www.childhelp.org.

For more information about the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin or to donate, call 413-475-3401 or visit: www.franklinnq.org. The center is at 56 Wisdom Way in Greenfield.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@gmail.com.




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