SMCAC staff Second row, from left: Daniel Dooley, lead forensic interviewer; Donna Thornhill, child and family advocate; Lisa Zimmerman, MDT facilitator; Billy Barnes, child and family advocate. Front row: Sylvia Hembree, intake coordinator; Kasey King, family therapist; Krystle Hilliard, program director; Angie Flowers, child and family advocate
By Krystle Hilliard
Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually. According to Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services statistics from March 2017, 200,492 cases of child abuse or neglect were reported in the state.
Over the past year, the South Mississippi Child Advocacy Center in Gulfport has doubled the number of children we serve. The increase is a direct result of increased reporting and joint investigations between law enforcement and CPS.
SMCAC, a solution of Canopy Children’s Solutions, serves child victims of abuse and neglect primarily living within George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties. The national CAC service model has revolutionized investigations of child abuse cases through the use of forensic interviews that allow the child to share his/her experience one time in a safe, child-friendly space. Testimony given in the child’s own words is provided to authorities to alleviate the need to retell traumatizing experiences.
The SMCAC works with multi-disciplinary teams to ensure the family receives proper care, remains informed and works collaboratively toward conviction. Teams includes members of SMCAC, the district attorney, law enforcement and CPS, as well as medical and mental health professionals. The MDT component is the heartbeat of SMCAC. Efforts in 2018, with the help of our MDTs, resulted in 57 convictions, 203 arrests and 113 awaiting trial. Of the 572 child victims or witnesses from last year, 368 are receiving counseling, 298 received medical examinations and 301 are receiving preventative services through programs like Canopy’s In-Circle (family preservation/reunification) and MYPAC (in-home psychiatric care).
The SMCAC connects families to service providers throughout the Gulf Coast region, including free medical evaluations to victims to collect medical evidence. It has a licensed staff therapist but also works with local mental health providers to connect victims and their families to therapeutic solutions. Staff also play an active role with the families throughout the investigation and litigation processes, and even beyond their time in court.
We offer hope to the hopeless, comfort to the comfortless and replace pain or sorrow with joy and happiness.
HOW TO HELP
The SMCAC is a nonprofit that relies solely on contributions and grants. Various events and fundraisers assist in efforts to provide a continuum of care free of charge. Throughout the year, SMCAC staff promote awareness and education about child abuse in hopes of helping community members recognize signs of abuse and empower children to end the cycle of maltreatment. Learn how you can help support the SMCAC by calling (228) 868- 8686.
Hilliard is the program director of Canopy’s South Mississippi Children’s Advocacy Center.