Dozens of pinwheels will line the perimeter of Mobile’s Child Advocacy Center (CAC) throughout the month of April, but director Andy Wynne says those only account for a fraction of the children who will come through the center’s doors seeking justice and healing in 2019.
“There are thousands of children who are being abused every day in our community,” Wynne said. “We probably have four or five hundred of what they call initial interviews, but there will be about 3,000 people walk through those doors this year, including children, parents and family.”
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which means there will be blue billboards, yard signs and T-shirts around Mobile bringing awareness to the subject. However, for the staff at the CAC on Springhill Avenue, preventing the sexual abuse of minors and helping children who have been abused find comfort and healing has been a year-round mission for three decades.
The CAC works directly with local law enfrcoment and counseling agencies to serve victims of childhood sexual abuse, as well as their non-offending families, by providing a safe space for interviews with a trained team to assist the victims through the criminal prosecution process.
Some of the agencies working with the CAC directly include the Mobile Police Department, Prichard Police Department, Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, Mobile County District Attorney’s office, Mobile Department of Human Resources and the private counseling service Lifelines.
The resources offered through the CAC put a trusted advocate by a child’s side throughout what is almost always an extremely difficult process. From practice court sessions to personalized counseling and family services, the CAC acts as a centralized location for abuse victims.
According to Wynne, it’s also one that couldn’t operate without the community’s support.
“About 75 percent of all our resources come from private individuals. What the center does is a never-ending cycle, but our job is minor compared to what our children face,” Wynne said. “They come in the midst of significant trauma, and to see them six months later come skipping down the hall asking for snacks … it may seem minor, but it’s major for those children.”
Wynne, who has spent decades working in child welfare at St. Mary’s Home and most recently with the Strickland Youth Center, said when helping abused children, it’s critical not only to get them to safety and bring perpetrators to justice, but also to help the healing process get started.
“When you do that, you can create a whole new generation who are not going to be abusers,” he added. “We know most of the time abusers were abused, and we can help stop the cycle.”
While it is grim subject matter, Child Abuse Awareness is important for organizations like the CAC that depend on community support, especially because it continues to be a significant problem in the local community. Wynne said the CAC takes on an average of 87 new cases every month.
Wynne said even in those cases that don’t result in prosecution, such an allegation is typically an indicator a child is living in a difficult situation. When no charges are filed, those children can still take advantage of the counseling services CAC provides every day.
This year, to help spread awareness, Lamar Advertising donated more than a dozen billboards to CAC across the greater Mobile area. MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste and District Attorney Ashley Rich also spoke April 1 about the role CAC plays in bringing child sex offenders to justice.
According to Rich, one of her assistant district attorneys works out of the CAC every day and coordinates with criminal investigators and childhood counselors to help law enforcement get the information it needs in a setting that is comfortable and safe for victimized children.
She said the center remains crucial to the work her office does in sexual abuse cases, and went on to call the employees and volunteers who work there “incredible,” “kindhearted” people. In his remarks, Battiste echoed similar praise of the CAC staff, whom he said have a difficult job.
“Victims of these crimes are often too young to speak for themselves and depend on the investigators and social workers who spend time getting them ready to go to court,” Battiste said. “Many times we look at justice as prosecution, but justice for a young child can just be the ability to heal and recover from that trauma. This center has consistently made sure victims of child abuse have an opportunity to heal and move on past that terrible experience.”
More information about the services CAC provides and how to help support its mission can be found on the organization’s website, cacmobile.org, or by phone at 251-432-1101.
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