Catholic Community Service SAFE Child Advocacy Center, protecting victims of violence

Catholic Community Service has the great honor to perform corporal works of mercy on behalf of the Catholic church in Southeast Alaska (formerly the Diocese of Juneau) with a mission of “serving the most vulnerable individuals and families in Southeast Alaska with dignity, care and compassion.”

Last month we shared a bit of an overview of Catholic Community Service and the good work we do with your prayers and support. In this message, I’d like to share an opportunity for you to help to “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
One of our programs is the SAFE Child Advocacy Center (SAFE CAC). We serve children and families from across Southeast Alaska who have experienced child abuse. It’s an effort made possible by partnerships with law enforcement and the Office of Children’s Services (OCS), as well as legal, tribal, women’s shelter, and other partners who protect and work towards justice for victims of violence.

What this looks like in practice is OCS or the police or troopers receive a report of harm, review the situation, and if abuse (especially sexual abuse) seems likely, they bring the child and a “safe” caregiver to our SAFE Child Advocacy Center for evaluation and advocacy.

Everything we do is designed to minimize the child’s trauma and not traumatize them more. We provide a safe space for the child to share their story and receive a medical exam from highly trained and compassionate staff. Our family and victim advocates continue to work with the family after their visit to connect them with the help they need–counseling, safe shelter, legal resources, even going to court with them as they negotiate the legal system.

But none of those efforts are any good if we can’t connect with the child and family in need—and that’s what happened when COVID-19 shut down schools and public places. Domestic violence skyrocketed under the pressure of the pandemic. On top of the increased likelihood of abuse, many kids no longer have access to safe adults (i.e., teachers, coaches, nurses) that they could typically disclose to.

In the first few months of the pandemic, the Alaska Office of Children’s Services saw a 40% decrease in reports of harm statewide. The number of children we served dropped lower than we’ve ever experienced.

So we took action and began a public education campaign for SAFE Kids! I’m pleased to tell you that we suddenly started getting referrals again—serving more children in late summer than any summer before. But with many schools still closed, we continue to need your help to be sure children who experience abuse are identified and can become safe, so they and their families can receive the support they need to heal and get the justice they deserve.

We ask that you please take the time
to observe and look at the children around you in your everyday life.

  • LOOK for unexplained injuries, changes in behavior, sleeping and eating habits, inappropriate sexual behavior and risk-taking behaviors.
  • LISTEN Remain calm and allow the child to talk, show interest and concern. Always reassure, support and believe the child.
  • REPORT Take action by calling or emailing the hotline below. You can also contact your local Child Advocacy Center.

WAYS TO REPORT

  • Call the Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-800-478-4444
  • Or report online at www.ReportChildAbuse.alaska.gov

Thank you so much for helping us carry our mission to help abused children and their families, and God Bless!

The writer is executive director of Catholic Community Service in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 463-6100 or visit ccsak.org.


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