Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center is the community’s response to child abuse and neglect cases in DeSoto and Tate counties in North Mississippi. Its mission is to respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education and prevention. The organization began in 2013 to better respond to those abuse cases that often fell through the cracks. Child Advocacy Centers began in Alabama in the mid-1980s when a district attorney realized a disconnect between the many organizations working to provide services to those children and families affected by abuse and neglect cases. The centers form multidisciplinary teams that provide services to those children and families in one place. A Children’s Advocacy Center is a child-focused, facility-based program in which representatives from many disciplines work together to protect abused children.
“When I tell people what I do, they say, ‘I’m so sorry,’” said Sally Williams, executive director. “But I’m glad we’re here. Where else would these families go for healing if we weren’t here? I can’t say enough about our multidisciplinary teams who make sure these families and children are supported.” The multidisciplinary team is the core focus of the work at Healing Hearts. It’s made up of a group of professionals from different organizations around the community that includes staff, law enforcement, child protection services, medical and mental health providers, prosecution and more. They come together to discuss and make decisions about investigation, treatment, intervention, and prosecution of child abuse cases with coordinated strategies sensitive to the needs of each unique case and child. They also work together to prevent further victimization of children and increase healing thorough medical and mental health services.
Healing Hearts has several training and outreach programs. Stewards of Children helps adults know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. Additionally, their caregiver support group is offered to equip caregivers with appropriate tools to help the child victim and caregivers to heal. Another training program is Stop Child Abuse & Neglect (SCAN), which focuses on children with age-appropriate puppet shows or videos to help them understand how to recognize inappropriate contact situations. In addition, Healing Hearts will provide professional training for organizations or businesses, as well as continuing education opportunities for different professional disciplines.
Healing Hearts typically sees children between ages 3 and 17, all who are referred from child protective services or law enforcement. The number of children seen has gone from about 125 in 2013 to more than 600 in 2019. “As awareness and prevention measures increase, you’ll see more reports and people identifying the signs,” Sally said. “What that means for us is we’re growing. We want our community to know what we’re doing to help them. We’re trying to protect our children, but we also want our children and their families to heal. We want them to overcome what has happened to them and for them to become a great part of the community.” April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and the organization will use virtual pinwheel gardens available as an awareness opportunity. Fundraising opportunities include a clay shooting event, Kentucky Derby party and golf tournament. Healing Hearts always needs volunteers to replenish its community closets that provide clothing, diapers and other essential items for families in need. For more information, go to healingheartscac.org.
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