April is child abuse prevention month

Claire Corley is the current Executive Director and Outreach Coordinator of Safe Harbor, a Children’s Advocacy Center, located in Greenville. She began volunteering there in 2014 and is no stranger to the problems faced by the three counties this Center serves; Butler, Crenshaw and Lowndes.

Safe Harbor’s mission is to respond to child abuse claims with a qualified team of professionals who try to reduce the trauma to both the child and the family.

Child abuse and neglect happens in every corner of society. A reasonable suspicion of abuse is all that’s needed for a person to report it to authorities. Once a report is made, it must be accepted before an investigation can begin according to Corley.

The law or the Department of Health and Human Services will arrange for a forensic interview with the child at the Advocacy Center. Their current interviewer comes in from Elmore County to conduct investigations, Corley said.

Allegations are dealt with in a setting that helps the child feel at ease. A team effort is required when a claim is made. That team consists of Child Protective Services, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocate, mental health and medical professionals.

The professionals conduct a forensic interview, the purpose of which is to perform a competent investigation. The department works directly with the child and parents through counseling or other professionals and agencies. They do try to keep the family unit together, if at all possible.

If intervention is necessary, the department will petition the court for custody and make plans to place the child in a safe environment.

Last year, Corley said they conducted 66 forensic interviews across the three counties, with a little over 70 percent of those cases in Butler county.

It is estimated that over 90 percent of the child victims knew their perpetrators. Unfortunately, most never tell anyone they are being abused.

It’s not just abuse and neglect cases that they encounter at Safe Harbor, though. Cases of sexual abuse are also seen at the center. Children who have witnessed violent crimes, domestic violence and homicide receive care there, also.

Child abuse and neglect is not a pleasant topic to discuss. But with the number of reported cases just in the last year, it is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. This year, Safe Harbor sold blue ribbons to help raise money for the Center. However, child abuse is a year-round issue. Safe Harbor receives funding through their membership in the Alabama Network of Child Advocacy Centers. Financial support also comes from the city, as well as a small amount from the county. Grant funding and donations help ease the costs and all services are offered free of charge to their clients.

If you suspect a child of being abused, please speak up. Lend your voice to the voiceless and together, we can help those children find a safe and happy future.

Call 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453). In Butler county, you can call (334) 382-4400; in Crenshaw county (334)335-7000; and in Lowndes county (334) 548-3800.

You can visit Safe Harbor by appointment now, just call them at (334) 382-8584. Their normal business hours are Monday thru Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and are located at 107 Caldwell Street in Greenville. Safe Harbor can also be reached by mail at PO Box 1020, Greenville, AL, 36037 and on the internet at www.safeharborbccac.org.

Please call 911 for any emergency situation