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Originally published: 2014-04-28 09:27:58
Last modified: 2014-04-28 09:29:53

Children's Advocacy Center to host open house

by Sherrie Norris

Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but the problem it represents is far from over.

With that in mind, the Children's Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge is hosting an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30.

With a local presence since 2011, the CAC is a nonprofit organization designed to help streamline child abuse cases, prosecute the offender and provide treatment for the young victims. 

Director Selena Moretz and her staff extend an open invitation to the community to stop in on Wednesday for more information about the services they provide to children and their families in the High Country.

The CAC representatives will be joined by those of their partnering agencies, who will be on hand to welcome guests, to explain the services offered, and to answer any questions that guests may have.
During this month of heightened awareness, the CAC has taken an active role in informing and educating the communities it serves about the prevalent and ongoing problem that affects countless children every day.

The agency has been especially proactive by encouraging individuals, families and businesses to become active in the fight against child abuse and neglect.

Its efforts to promote the display of blue ribbons and bows as a stark reminder of child abuse has been, and continues to be, evident around the High Country.

Moretz hopes that Wednesday's open house will further enhance the community's knowledge of not only the problems related to child abuse, but about how her organization helps victims work through their traumatic experience.



Community working together

According to Moretz, who is also the agency's forensic interviewer, great strides are being made with the help of local agencies involved in various aspects of child abuse cases, but more work is needed.

"In 2013, we conducted 93 forensic interviews and 60 child medical exams here at the CAC," Moretz said. "These numbers are up from 2012, in which we conducted 64 interviews and 41 exams.

The CAC reported that in 2013, Watauga County Child Protective Services received 441 reports of possible child abuse or neglect; of those, 264 reports were screened for investigation or assessment.

Of those numbers, 31 were confirmed reports of alleged abuse and 185 reports alleged neglect; 12 reports alleged abuse and neglect; and one of alleged dependency.



Easing trauma

In providing a child- and family-friendly atmosphere, the CAC helps coordinate collaboration, Moretz said, that makes a difficult situation much easier on victims of child abuse.

Without such unity, a child victim would have to endure multiple interviews by different professionals in various settings, she said.

At the CAC, Moretz interviews the child and records the interview; Beth Browning, a registered nurse, conducts an on-site forensic medical examination, eliminating the added trauma usually associated with an emergency room visit.

Also a part of the local CAC team are Holli Sink, licensed psychologist, and Ashley McKinney, licensed psychological associate, who provide trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy to child victims and their non-offending family members.

The CAC works within a multidisciplinary team representing all agencies involved, which includes, but is not limited to, local departments of social services, law enforcement, district attorney's offices and mental health.

The team meets to review the cases monthly, and in addition to gathering information to prosecute the perpetrator in the case, the representatives also work to ensure that the victims and their families get assistance with other treatments and services as needed.

 The CAC, in a nutshell, is designed to minimize trauma to children (and their non-offending family members) resulting from child physical or sexual abuse; to advocate for and support child victims and their non-offending family members; and to enhance the legal process in achieving optimal criminal prosecutions, according to Moretz.

The agency is a program under the umbrella of the Morganton-based Southmountain Children and Family Services, which has provided services to children and their families of Western North Carolina for more than a century, and is also known as the state's first and only foster community. The CAC is located at 105 Niley Cook Road, between Boone and Blowing Rock. 

For more information, call (828) 414-9277 or email (cacobr@southmountain.org)