Children and families confronted with problems of violence often face multiple traumas.
These include confronting the mental and physical reality of the abuse itself and then sharing their story again, again and again, with multiple agencies, from law enforcement and medical personnel to therapists and the social service staff.
Nancy’s House, a new children’s advocacy center for Craven and Pamlico counties, hopes to alleviate the pain of those facing abuse issues.
Southmountain’s Child and Family Services branch, the center will be holding a grand opening today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at its offices at 506 Pollock Street in New Bern.
Having opened in June 2020, Nancy’s House has already worked with a total of 200 cases of Craven and Pamlico abuse according to Chris Jernigan, executive director of Southmountain Children and Family Services.
Jernigan explained that the advocacy center takes a “multidisciplinary approach” to investigating the child abuse that led to former Huntsville, Ala. District attorney Bud Cramer in the late 1980s.
“He felt there was a need for a more coordinated effort, that people needed to work better together to investigate child abuse,” Jernigan said. “Not only to build a stronger case, but also to reduce the trauma the child had to endure through.”
Typically, a child involved in an abuse case will be questioned by law enforcement, the local social service department, the district attorney, and perhaps even the child’s school system. He said the process can be confusing and places an undue burden on both the child and family members.
“They end up having to tell their story over and over again on average about six to eight times,” he noted. “And they often have a medical exam in an emergency room where people aren’t trained for it.”
Southmountain Children’s Facilities strive to bring these diverse organizations together under one roof, Jernigan said. The child and the family come to the center where they meet the DSS and the police.
“We interview a highly trained forensic investigator who is trained to talk to children without using leading questions and how to get the information needed to argue a case, and do so in a trauma-lessened manner,” Jernigan said. .
An examination is then performed by the centre’s medical provider, who is specifically trained in child abuse work. The exam is also supervised by a certified pediatrician.
Nancy’s House also provides lawyers to help the family through the legal process and help them access services in the community.
“They’ll go with them into the courtroom and act a bit like a case manager,” Jernigan said.
Nancy’s House also employs treatment clinicians who are trained in trauma-focused cognitive therapy, which Jernigan says has proven to be the most effective method of treating trauma.
“We put the child for a trauma assessment and then we put them in treatment so they can start to get over what happened and move on,” he explained.
Child abuse cases on the rise in Craven County
According to Geoffrey Marett, director of the Craven County Social Services Department, the number of abuse cases handled by the Craven County DSS that complied with child neglect laws and policies was 773 in 2020. As of September this year, that number was 664.
“In September compared to last September, we had 98 more reports than last year,” said Marett.
Discussing the county’s foster care cases, Marett said that in 2020 there was an average of 105 children in Craven County’s foster care system each month. Until September 2021, there were an average of 97 children in the system.
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According to Marett, three main factors prevail in child protection cases in which the DSS intervenes: drug addiction, untreated mental disorders and domestic violence.
“Substance abuse illness really stands out from all of these,” he said. “We see this in about 53% of our cases. We have also seen that with reports of drug addiction from affected infants, children who test positive for drugs. In 2017 we had 30 reports of children born positive for drugs and in 2020 we had 65, an increase of 117% in four years. Our projection is that the numbers for 2021 will beat 2020. ”
Marett said he was not sure the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the increase in abuse.
“I think every time you limit socializing and people don’t have interaction you can see things like depression and anxiety increase,” he commented.
Marett said he believes the Maison de Nancy is an invaluable resource for those struggling with issues that can have lifelong repercussions.
“This is such a crucial and vital service for the children we have in Craven and Pamlico counties,” said Marett. “Our children are the most precious resource we have. “
Child advocacy centers are a growing need across North Carolina
In 1998, the first Southmountain Children’s Advocacy Center was opened in Burke County. There are now four operating facilities in western North Carolina.
Southmountain also began to move east, with facilities opening in Moore and Nash counties. In addition to Nancy’s House, a new advocacy center will open in Carteret County later this month.
“There is a children’s advocacy center in Greenville that has tried to cover all of these counties. This is where the DSS and law enforcement should go and they would have to wait long enough to get an interview or a medical exam just because this center had so many counties they were dealing with, ”Jernigan said.
The name of New Bern’s advocacy center, Nancy’s House, comes from recently retired Nash County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb.
Lamb worked as a district attorney in the Edenton area during the infamous Little Rascals Daycare case in the early 1990s. The case included allegations that daycare staff subjected children to satanic rituals of abuse. .
The owner of the daycare, Bob Kelly, was found guilty on 99 of the 100 counts and received 12 consecutive life sentences. In 1995, those convictions were overturned by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which said there had been legal errors by the prosecution. The charges against three other staff members were ultimately dismissed.
“This was one of the first cases that really brought to light child abuse and the investigative process. We didn’t have a child advocacy center in the state at the time and the first one grew out of that, ”Jernigan said. “Nancy has since done a lot of training on all the mistakes they made and how to improve things.”
Jernigan said Nancy’s Place seeks to minimize the impact of the legal process on children.
“What we do know about the old way of doing things is that kids would have to tell their story so many times that sometimes they would get to the point where they would say ‘That never happened’ or ‘I. don’t want to talk about it ‘and has completely died out,’ ”he commented. “They may also tell this story differently to different people, just because of the way they are asked the questions.”
Many times, Jernigan said, children who work with advocacy centers can avoid going to court altogether.
“Often the abuser will litigate because he knows we have such a strong case,” he noted. “Our goal is to get these people out of the way so that they can no longer hurt children. “