It was a cool day in the Spring of 2018 when I was invited to tour the facility of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance which currently serves Faulkner, Van Buren, Searcy, Perry and Conway Counties. I didn’t know exactly what to expect but I knew that the organization assisted abused children. I was greeted and welcomed at the front door and was then toured through the facility as an abused child would be taken care of.
The waiting area was welcoming enough with a sofa and some chairs. There was a tree on one of the walls which was made of paper and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of laminated leaves on the tree branching out into the entire room. The mood of my visit changed as I was told that each leaf represents an individual child which had been through the doors of the facility. My heart began to sink even further when I was told that 85% – 90% of those children had been sexually abused.
I was escorted then to another area of the center which was the last type of room I had expected to see. It was an in-house examination room for child rape victims. Lights, scopes, medical equipment… all the things needed to gather forensic evidence were on hand. There were special supplies available for babies and smaller children. Even if forensic evidence isn’t available due to lapse of time since the injury or whatever reason, they are able to assure the child that everything is going to be ok physically even though they were hurt really badly. The grim reality hit me and all I could think was, “This really happens.. this REALLY happens.”
We moved along the tour where I saw a monitored room with basically invisible high-tech equipment where skilled counselors work with those children to get their stories and gather evidence for the police, who watch from a distant monitoring room. They had anatomically correct dolls they could pull out and use, if necessary, for children too small to communicate their abuse.
After the facility tour, we sat again in the first room with the tree and leaves. I learned that there are over 2,000 leaves on that tree and that the facility has only been open since 2005-2006. I asked several difficult questions, one of those being, “How many of these kids are from Van Buren County?” The response was, “Hundreds.” “There must be abused children ALL OVER Van Buren County,” I thought.
I was educated on how the different parts of Children’s Advocacy Alliance come together and the importance of CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates) to work on the child’s best interest and to give the abused children a true chance at life after abuse. They go the extra mile to counsel families to try to heal the child mentally for the future. They told me of their tremendous successes and how our children can be so strong and resilient and move ahead when given the proper counselling.
I was given a tour to show what kind of services were offered to Van Buren County through an excellent program. All I could think of was getting a facility within Van Buren County to address this sobering and horrific need. The distance between Conway and Van Buren County has created too many obstacles, especially for impoverished families.
Children’s Advocacy Alliance works closely with the Department of Human Services, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the local and state police who have a department for crimes against children. If a child is in the monitoring room with a counsellor and the police are in the counsellor’s ear pushing for further questions, the counsellor has the authority to shut down the entire process if it is too much for the child to bear. Children first, always, is what makes this organization so wonderful. Children’s Advocacy Alliance provides hope, safety, and justice amidst darkness and despair.
I am so happy to announce that Van Buren County is being blessed with a fully equipped Children’s Advocacy Alliance Center! They will be located in a private wing of the Courthouse Annex and they are currently trying to plan for a grand opening and open house. They bring specialized training on child sex-trafficking, child abuse situations, and will be a valuable asset to Van Buren County. They will offer counselling services and mental care to help the abused of VBC. They work off of grants and donations. Children’s Advocacy Alliance is an excellent giving opportunity and benevolent nonprofit organization.
-Dale James, Van Buren County Judge