Little one abuse prevention is year-round effort | Information
April is Child Abuse Prevention month, but the efforts to eliminate or reduce child abuse is a year-round for mission for one local organization.
If you’ve driven by the Lincoln County Courthouse recently and noticed the blue pinwheels in the grass, then you’ve seen the child abuse awareness campaign by the Lincoln County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). Pinwheels for Prevention is a national campaign designed to increase awareness of child abuse prevention efforts nationwide by highlighting programs and activities that promote healthy child development and prevention of child abuse.
Now in its 25th year of serving the area, the CAC offers child abuse intervention and assessment services in a safe, neutral and supportive environment, for children who are suspected of being abused or neglected.
According to the CAC website, historically, children who are the victims of abuse allegations are shuffled from agency to agency where they have to tell their story of abuse and relive painful events over and over again. However, the CAC strives to bring agencies and services together in a child-friendly setting that’s non-threatening and physically and psychologically safe for children of all ages.
Not to be confused with CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, CAC works regularly with law enforcement, child welfare and other agencies through an interagency team approach to suspected child abuse cases. The goal is to help reduce trauma for the child, support the family, and improve outcomes. All services are free of charge.
“Part of the purpose of CAC is to do outreach in all different avenues of media,” Sharon Biddinger, CAC development director, said. “The goal is to provide resources and education quickly.” Since recently joining the staff, Biddinger has helped build a new website, rebrand with a new logo and launched CAC on several media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. She said it is important to reach affected youth in any and every platform they use.
CAC director Paul Schrader said it is clear through studies that child abuse, and maltreatment in general, is a measure of the health of a community as a whole.
“If we can reduce child abuse, the health of the community is increased significantly,” Schrader said. That includes physical and mental health as well as a large fiscal cost.
Schrader said the COVID pandemic was doubly devastating for abused children. The numbers of reported child abuse cases decreased dramatically during the pandemic, which may sound good on the surface, but reflects that fewer cases were reported because schools were not open. “The abuse was still happening, it just wasn’t reported,” Schrader said. “People in the school system are the most likely to report these kinds of situations.” This was compounded by the fact that the children were often trapped at home with their abusers.
Sex trafficking is another big issue for the CAC. “People think of kids getting snatched up and taken and don’t take it seriously because that doesn’t happen here. But that is not how it happens at all,” Biddinger said, adding that sex trafficking happens slowly over a long period of time. “There is grooming and gaining trust of the victim. And often the person being abused doesn’t even know it.” There is not necessarily an increase in sex trafficking, just more recognition of it now.
For Biddinger, becoming involved in CAC first as a volunteer and now as an employee was very personal. She came from an abusive home and was homeless at age 15 because of that abuse. She credits her success to having a caring community that supported her during her time of crisis when she needed the most help. “Having a center here in Lincoln County lets kids know there are safe places and resources,” Biddinger said. “Connecting with the CAC is a pretty incredible opportunity.”
Though the work is challenging and complicated, it’s all positive, according to Schrader.
“We are providing a potential for a change,” he said. “Not just for the child, but for the parents who are in a bad situation, and they don’t know how to get out of it.”
The CAC provides forensic interviews, free family advocacy for all child victims and their families, mental health services and case management. In addition, the CAC provides outreach and prevention training. “Centers like this one give victims tools and resources and also gives them a fighting chance — not just to overcome but to have an outcome where the perpetrators are convicted and held accountable. It’s really empowering,” Biddinger said.
Schrader said the CAC has the following positions open: child advocate, forensic interviewer, trauma therapist and prevention coordinator. There are several different volunteer opportunities as well. “We should have far more people and services,” Schrader said. “We have the money, and I can’t find the people. We need to get cases that need to be seen, seen.”
CAC has held a gala fundraiser each year in February, which brings in 10 to 15 percent of the yearly budget. The last two years were canceled due to COVID. Plans are underway for a 2023 gala in partnership with Samaritan House.
To learn about CAC, go to their website, www.caclincoln-or.org, and follow them on social media channels.