April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Though there are several local organizations dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse, several of them fear a lack of resources and support could limit the amount of help they will be able to give.
The Children’s Justice Center, Family Support Center and Utah Foster Care all operate out of the Christmas Box House on 300 East.
“We are all very different, with different funding sources, but with a common goal. The well-being of children,” said Connie Brewer Haycock, director of the Moab Children’s Justice Center.
As a state, Utah scores very well for overall child well-being. The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a study in January of last year that ranks Utah the fourth best state in the nation when it comes to the well-being of its children. The study takes into account seven factors, including economic well-being, health and safety, and emotional/spiritual well-being.
Utah also had the fourth lowest rate of children entering foster care in 2011, according to the latest national numbers published by the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS), with a state average of 2.2 per thousand in 2010 and 2.1 in 2012.
However, Grand County had 5.5 children per thousand people entering foster care in 2010 and 7.2 per thousand in 2012, according to data from the DHS.
And though some state-level indicators have shown that the overall number abuses may be falling, the number investigated by the Moab CJC has increased.
The number of cases investigated by Child Protective Services has dropped from its high of 21,149 in 2005, to 19,838 in 2010, to 18,831 in 2012, according to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services’ (DCFS) 2012 annual report.
According to the same report, of the 18,831 complaints investigated last year, 6,531 were found to have merit.
That number is still far too high for Haycock.
Children’s Justice Center
The CJC is a statewide program that began in 1999, with Moab’s center opening in 2005. Haycock has also opened a satellite center in Blanding.
“When children disclose possible abuse or it is reported to Child Protective Services they bring the children to us,” Haycock said.
Sexual abuse is the most common type of abuse, but the center also works with cases of physical abuse, neglect and children who have witnessed violence.
Once a child is brought to the CJC they are interviewed by a plain-clothed and unarmed law-enforcement officer. The officer uses a set model of questions designed to minimize the trauma to the child.
“I monitor the interview to make sure they follow the format of the model,” Haycock said.
The interview is recorded as evidence then the child is placed on the road to recovery. The CJC has a specialized pediatrician and nurse who work with the center when necessary.
There are now 18 CJCs in Utah under the local oversight of each county’s attorney. State level oversight comes from Utah’s attorney general.
The number of interviews that Haycock oversees has risen since she began her work. Going from 45 interviews in 2005, to 67 in 2009 and reaching 68 last year. But she sees a silver lining in these increasing numbers.
“We are slowly getting more disclosures because we are slowly bringing (child abuse) out into the open. All you have to do is turn on the news and there’s a much greater awareness of child abuse,” said Haycock. “We are getting more disclosures. I don’t think we are getting an increase in child abuse.”
Haycock also partners with law enforcement and Seekhaven to do a “Safe Smart Kids” program for schoolchildren kindergarten through third grade at Helen M. Knight Elementary. The program’s goal is prevention and it teaches children to “say no, get away, tell someone.”
Family Support Center
Another organization working to prevent child abuse in Grand County is The Family Support Center (FSC), which opened its doors in July of 2007. The FSC provides emergency daycare for parents that are in danger of losing control with their child, said Sherilyn Sowell, the center’s director.
“The nursery is primarily a means of preventing abuse. We are not actually a day care but a respite nursery,” she said. “Protecting children and strengthening families is our mission.”
“We take children zero to 11 (years old). Children can stay with us up to 72 hours if need be,” said Debbie Officer, a worker at the crisis nursery. “We have got bedrooms all set up. We have a very homey atmosphere. We have a full kitchen set up to prepare meals.”
In addition to parents in danger of losing control, the FSC also offers daycare to qualifying parents who have no other avenue to have time away from their children. The center will also take children if the parent has an interview, doctor’s appointment or other qualifying commitment.
“At first people thought that if your children come here there is a problem, but that is not the case at all,” Sowell said.
The FSC has been providing services to more people while receiving less funding. Over the last five years it has become harder to qualify for government aid to help pay for day care. That has meant the FSC’s services are being sought by a growing number of Moab’s residents, Sowell said.
“Our funding was cut for the next fiscal year by $30,000 so we are trying to do as many fundraisers as possible to bring this up to where we can run as a facility,” she said.
Moab’s Utah Foster Care foster family recruiter/retention specialist Geri Swift has also been struggling to find the resources she needs.
Utah Foster Care
In Swift’s case, the resources she needs are families.
Her job is to find and train families in the Moab area to take in foster children. Once Swift has trained them they are screened and licensed by the state.
“We provide a safe loving environment for children that are taken into custody by the state,” Swift said. “(But) it is difficult to find homes for children.”
It is especially difficult in Grand County.
Many families, Swift believes, are afraid of the disruption a foster child will bring to their family, and if they do foster a child they fear the pain of having to let the child that they have grown so close to go. This, and families preference for taking younger foster children over teenagers, can make it very difficult to place children, she said.
Because the state now makes a much greater effort to place a child with another family member there are less children in need of foster homes. However, Swift said, after the 2008 recession there are fewer families willing to accept foster children. This has meant that the need for new families is as great as ever.