Children’s Advocacy Center seeks to raise abuse awareness 

STAFF WRITER John Coffelt The Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center sees child abuse cases that are uncomfortable to even contemplate on a daily basis, but despite the grim nature of the job, the staff remains optimistic that there is hope for the victims and families they help. Part of that hope comes through community awareness. “This year, what we’re doing for child abuse awareness month (April) is to focus on awareness rather than prevention,” Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Joyce Prusak said. The theme this year is Gardens of Hope, with colorful pinwheels being planted at Peoples Bank and Trust. “What we want people to understand is abuse does happen. It is very real,” she said. Just under 300 children were seen last year by the center. That’s just the severe cases, the only cases that the center handles. “Last year, 83 percent of the cases that came through our doors that were investigated by our child protective team were due to allegations of child sexual abuse,” Prusak said. She added that sexual abuse is the primary case the center sees, but there are also cases of severe physical abuse, neglect and drug exposure. “What we want people to understand is, yes, these children go through these traumatic events, but there is hope. We are able to give them the tools that they need to at least start the healing process,” she said. For some, it will be a lifelong process of healing. “When they come here and make that initial disclosure to our forensic interviewer, our family advocate then works on coordinating services for the child and the family,” she said. Prusak explained that the family of the victim is a victim in their own way. “The family experiences   this as well as the child. It could be someone that they love, someone that was in the home, someone that they trusted, and now they are questioning everything,” Prusak said. “Then, comes medical exams, mental health service, that are really key. We have a fabulous therapist now that works with children and is specifically trained to work with children who have experienced trauma.” The therapist works with the child and the non-offending family into the process. He brings them all in so they can hopefully heal together. There is hope. Yes, abuse does happen. It is very, very real…but we want people to understand that by having the right intervention service, we’re doing a service not only to that child and family, but to the community as well. They can grow up to be healthy adults and have jobs,” Prusak stressed. “When I’ve gone before the county commission… I tell them, if we invest in kids through schools early on, you’re not going to need a bigger jail in 10 years. Children who have healthy childhoods and have the right guidance, people who care for them – it can just take one person, that child is more likely to make good decisions later in life,” she added. Over 3,250 children have been helped since the Children’s Advocacy Center opened in 2005. Individualized care Services the center provides include forensic interviews, crisis services, referral services, non-offending caregiver counseling, on-site therapy, safety education and community workshops to give childcare professionals the tools to spot signs of abuse, case management and onsite medical care for the victims of sexual abuse. No fees are charged for services by the Children’s Advocacy Center. The center will hold its annual fundraiser, Party with a Purpose, April 20 at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center. This year’s theme is the ‘90s. Dress business casual or on your finest ‘90s attire. The silent auction will be at 6 p.m. and dinner and live music at 7 p.m. Dance to the music of Escape, a versatile 5-piece band based out of Columbia, Tenn. Tickets are $50 per person or $100 per couple. Reservations are due by April 12. “It’s our big event for the year. We raise a little more than 15 percent of our budget for the year with that event, so it’s really critical for us,” Prusak said. “When we’re out asking for donations, we want people to know that that money really does stay here and help kids here in Coffee County.” For tickets, call 723-8888 or go to www.coffeecountycac.org. For the online auction, visit www.biddingforgood.com. Some things up for grabs are tickets to the American Museum of Science and Energy, and the Ave Maria Grotto, lower box tickets to a Chattanooga Lookouts game, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, a family pass to Rock City and tickets to the Corvette Museum. Find a complete list online. The auction will close on at 5 p.m. on April 17.