Optimists learn about child advocacy

“Hearing their voices; healing their hearts.”

So goes the message of hope that the Dickerson Children’s Advocacy Center gives its clients. On June 14, Haley Shealy, Development and Special Events Coordinator for the Center, presented that message in detail to St. Andrews Optimists.

The Dickerson Center serves children ages zero to 18 years old who have either experienced sexual abuse or violence, or have witnessed such cases. The clients are referred to the Center by either law enforcement or D.S.S., and by the time those clients arrive, they have been removed from an unsafe environment.

The key interaction early-on is a lengthy forensic interview where the clients are able to “decompress” and tell of their experiences. That session is done one-on-one. The interview forms the core of the Center’s evaluation, although it is not the only fact-finding setting. In detailed follow-up with a therapist, additional bits and pieces of the clients’ experiences can and often do surface and help to form a complete picture.

Components of the forensic interview are medical history and experiences, an assessment of the client’s mental health, and victim dynamics. The interview is recorded. The clients may enter the process scared and tentative. The forensic interview is lengthy in part to help the victims realize they are in a safe place and can speak freely. Shealy said that as traumatic as it may be for victims to undergo the interview, they only have to do it once. Gaining the trust of the client is job one.

At the end of each month, whichever organization referred the client conducts a review of every single referral case. Through this process, the cases maintain their momentum. Once a case is underway, appropriate agencies are involved in developing and implementing a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual client. Those agencies may be from law enforcement, prosecution, medical, mental health, or child protective services. There are also opportunities for non-abusive family members to be involved.

All the services mentioned are done at a single location, and there is no charge for those services.

Shealy offered these statistics: During 2023, the Center treated more than 700 individuals, averaging no fewer than 12 per week. 71 percent of those clients were aged 2 to 14. Three of five victims never report what they have seen or experienced. The potential pool of victims needing care, then, is much larger than the number of clients actually treated.

Pictured are club speaker sponsor Stever Odom, Hayley Shealy, and Club President Kerry Powers, who presented the speaker with a copy of the Optimist Creed.