Children's Safety Center
Offering hope and healing for victims of child abuse
By Kara Isham | Photos courtesy of Children’s Safety Center
For some, the darkest hours of their lives happen when they are much too young. But for the victims of child abuse and neglect in Washington County, there is a safe haven at the Children’s Safety Center – a place where they can find support and begin to heal.
As thousands of survivors can confirm, the CSC is a place where victims of child abuse can find the support they so desperately need. When a child visits the CSC, they leave an indelible handprint on the wall representing an emotional story of recovery.
There are more than 11,000 handprints that line the nonprofit’s interior walls, attesting to the resiliency of each child who sought help. These painted handprints have become a defining symbol of the nonprofit’s mission as each handprint tells a story full of hope for the future.
Founded in 1997, the CSC assists more than 800 children each year. The nonprofit’s primary goal is to facilitate more effective child abuse prevention, detection and investigation – while ensuring the child is not further victimized by the intervention systems designed to protect them.
The CSC offers essential services such as child advocacy, forensic interviews, forensic medical exams, therapy and abuse prevention trainings. This work is facilitated by CSC staff as well as local law enforcement, child protective services, medical personnel and others in the community who have the child’s best interest at heart.
Children who walk through the CSC’s doors are welcomed by a bright and kid-friendly space as well as an advocate who is specifically trained to walk alongside them. Advocates provide critical support to children during their initial forensic interview — where they share the experience in their own words — and continue to offer support throughout the investigation and court procedures. Even after legal actions have concluded, the advocate continues to be a steady and trustworthy support net for each child.
To help facilitate healing, the CSC also provides a comprehensive treatment program for the child victims by using evidence-based treatments for trauma. Among other benefits, these treatments teach children what it means to be in a healthy and safe relationship, helping to alleviate any self-blame or feelings of guilt the child may have regarding the trauma that was inflicted upon them.
While the past year has been challenging, the nonprofit has remained open to those in need. “Child abuse does not stop because of a pandemic,” says Elizabeth Shackelford, CSC executive director. “So we have been open and here for the kids.”
Advocates spent the past year making COVID Care Packages for families that included items such as groceries, activities and other necessities. And although some therapy sessions were conducted virtually, they remained a vital resource in helping children process the added stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the CSC is that it provides all of its services free of charge. With an average cost of $1,600 per child, the nonprofit relies on the generosity of the community to keep its doors open. CSC development director Emily Rappe’ Fisher notes that while the pandemic has affected their budget, they have been inspired by the outpouring of support from the community.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and all across the nation communities are coming together to raise awareness about child abuse in their hometowns. Throughout Northwest Arkansas, colorful pinwheels are displayed at the Pinwheels for Prevention event, with each pinwheel representing an abused child. April 2 is Wear Blue Day, showing a unified commitment to keeping kids safe, and April 25 is Blue Sunday, a day when the faith communities show their support for young victims.
The CSC will also host its 14th annual Dream Big Charity Gala on July 16. This year’s virtual event is circus-themed and will include live music, circus acts, an online silent auction and a short program on the important work and impact of the CSC. This year’s presenting sponsor is Johnson & Johnson, and the event’s honorary chair will be Scott McCall, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S.
While the past year has been challenging, the nonprofit has remained a reliable resource for young victims of child abuse. “Even in the age of COVID, where masks have replaced smiles and social distancing has replaced handshakes, our staff still finds ways to make the emotional connection that can make all the difference to our young people,” says Fisher.
For more information on the Children’s Safety Center, visit www.childrenssafetycenter.org and follow the nonprofit on social media.