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Meridian in the News

Child Abuse: Finding, Healing, and Justice

Mar 29

Written by:
Wednesday, March 29, 2017  RssIcon

From Greater Muncie

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month! Meridian Health Services and its Child Advocacy Center are making a difference in combating abuse and helping children and families find healing and justice.

Meridian’s Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was developed more than 10 years ago as a community collaboration to create a safe and healing environment for abused children to tell their story and help increase prosecution rates of their perpetrators. Nationally, it is reported that one in four children have experienced some form of abuse, and one in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18. These staggering statistics convey the need for a CAC to help support children and put predators behind bars.

The CAC is located within the Suzanne Gresham Center, Meridian’s children and family specialty center. Interviews and investigations of child abuse are conducted with sensitivity and compassion. Children are in a more comforting environment versus being in a police department setting with criminals, which traditionally is the case in cities with no Child Advocacy Center.

Typically, when a child reports abuse to a friend or family member, police must start an investigation and question the victim at the police station. Children might assume, through media inclinations, that police stations are characteristically a place for criminals to be interviewed and might feel like they did something wrong.

That’s where the CAC is different and a multi-disciplinary team steps in. Upon entering the CAC at the Suzanne Gresham Center, children walk along cobblestone carpet and are greeted by bright murals and children’s paintings. The lobby has a large tree house play area for waiting children.

The multi-disciplinary team includes members of law enforcement, prosecution, Department of Child Services, healthcare professionals, mental health counselors and victim advocates. They conduct interviews with the children who have faced abuse, approaching it with compassion and support. The multi-disciplinary team is able to pursue reports of child abuse more effectively and efficiently.

The interview is done one time, and professionals watch a live feed in another room. Police, prosecutors, child protection caseworkers and any other necessary experts are able to transmit questions to the trained interviewer who has specialized training in forensic interviewing of children.

This method ensures that evidence is gathered properly for prosecution through a quality and competent investigation, while also reducing trauma for the victim and keeping the needs of the child a primary goal. The feed can also be telecast to the actual courtroom if necessary.

The CAC has helped nearly 2,000 children since its opening in 2007. The CAC has also helped triple the rates of child abuse cases accepted for prosecution in Delaware County since 2006. Of the approximate 28 CACs in Indiana, Meridian is one of only five nationally accredited and one of two within a children’s behavioral health treatment facility. Meridian is unique as it can provide seamless support as one provider for mental health counseling and medical care for better healing and recovery.

In honor of all the courageous children, The Listening Tree – Leaves of Courage is a life-size ceramic mosaic built to recognize each child interviewed with a copper leaf with his or her first name and age hung on The Listening Tree. The leaves give inspiration to children that they are not alone in this battle and represent each precious child and their courage to end suffering, find healing and justice for a better future.

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