By Terri Smith
Women’s Fund of Smith County
Abuse can be lonely.
Because the victim is afraid to tell.
Because the abuser has shamed or scared them into silence.
Because no one they tell believes the story.
At the Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County we provide a safe place for a child to tell their story of abuse and work with our Multidisciplinary Team partners in law enforcement, CPS, the medical community and the District Attorney’s office to find the truth, and to find healing, safety, hope and justice for each child and for their protective caregivers.
This child has no idea that there is a group of professionals who stand ready to help.
At the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), our trained forensic interviewers will listen, our nurse and nurse practitioner will step in when needed for medical issues, our family advocates will help with the family’s needs and navigating the new reality of life. Therapists will provide trauma focused therapy. The staff is poised and mobilized to provide the needed services to help the child and to help the protective family.
At the same time our Multidisciplinary partners are ensuring the safety and health of the child and pursuing the investigation of the case and the effective prosecution of the alleged perpetrator.
When I step back and look at the services we offer at the CAC, I wish that lonely child knew that in addition to the professionals there is a community of people who want to help. That, collectively, they stand together to provide support by supplying material and financial needs.
The Women’s Fund of Smith County stepped into the CAC for the first time in 2009, granting the seed money for our Community Education program to empower children with knowledge of what abuse is, how to prevent it and what to do if it happens. Starting with five schools in 2009, this program has grown to one of the most comprehensive in the state with age-appropriate curriculum for those in preschool through high school and for adults, whether those working with children or parents and caregivers who want information.
Again in 2012, 2013 and 2017, the Women’s Fund supported the programs of the Children’s Advocacy Center with grant funds for new forensic interview equipment, expansion of the mental health program and expansion of the medical program. The impact of these funds is felt today as they allow the CAC to offer more critical services to the increased number of children we see.
And, this community has individually and collectively grown with us, which is incredibly important to fulfilling our mission to serve every child who walks through our doors to tell his or her story.
We often acknowledge that the people of Tyler and Smith County are extraordinarily generous. We are proud to lend a hand or give funds to assist those who need our help. For us at Children’s Advocacy Center, this has made a difference in our ability to add programming and to make every effort to serve every child with the full array of services needed for healing.
In 2013, 331 children were brought by law enforcement and/or Child Protective Services to the CAC. In 2018, 819 children walked through our doors to tell their stories.
When a non-profit organization experiences a 147% growth in seven years, the support of the community is critical. Because of the belief in our children and in our work, the generosity of our community has made it possible for us to welcome every child who is reported to need us, and to do, as our unofficial motto states, “whatever is best for the child.”
Oh, how I wish I could tell that child who is so alone that we at the CAC and you in the community stand shoulder-to-shoulder and ready to help. That he is not alone. That she has a cadre of people who want to help.
That while, for her or for him, the monster that we are afraid of as children is real, there are those who will step in and help; there are heroes among us who want to stop the abuse and there are those who will individually or collectively intervene and make that happen with the resources entrusted to them.
This is the importance of impactful giving: tackling problems together, changing lives with our resources, gifts and commitments and standing behind those who cannot do it alone. Together we are stronger. Together we are there for our neighbors and for our community paving the way for futures filled with hope, not despair, and empowering the most vulnerable to lead a life free of trauma and full of hope.
Terri Smith serves as Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County, one of 29 different Smith County nonprofit agencies that has received grant funding from the Women’s Fund of Smith County since 2009. The Women’s Fund is a giving circle of more than 300 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. The 2020 grant awards will be announced at a reception February 4 at 5:45 p.m. at Willow Brook Country Club. For more information, please call 903-509-1771 or visit www.womensfundsc.org