By Crystal Burns
Reports of suspected child abuse in Gibson County are down, but for the professional, experienced staff at the Gibson County Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, that isn’t a good thing.
Bett Jewell, director of the Gibson County Center, explained that the decline in reports is directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions, specifically schools being closed. When children are in school, teachers and counselors trained to look for signs of abuse, have their eyes on their students, and school is a safe place for many children.
“Reporting is not as it should be,” Jewell, who has spent seven years with the Carl Perkins Center and two years in Gibson County, said. “It’s concerning for us.”
Despite the challenges the pandemic has created, work at the Carl Perkins centers located in 16 West Tennessee counties continues. Jewell said employees are utilizing technology to provide services and keep appointments. Forensic interviews are still held in the office, with only essential adults present and all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines strictly followed.
“It’s been pretty challenging,” Jewell said.
What happens when courts and schools re-open is anyone’s guess.
“There is no real way to prepare for it,” Jewell said. “We’ll have to do the best we can as it comes. It will be a pretty stressful time of catch up.”
Since she was hired in as a therapist, that program is close to Jewell’s heart and easily draws her praise.
“The program has been phenomenal,” she said.
There is no cost, therefore, no restrictions on how many times a child can receive therapy. Therapy includes a parent/caregiver component that provides those loved ones with resources, knowledge, skills, and support they need to better understand the abuse the child has suffered and the coping skills the child is learning.
Seeing children and families heal from abuse keeps the sleepless nights staff members endure going.
“It’s very difficult when a child is disclosed,” Jewel. “That in between time when we’re making sure the child is 100% safe and cared for is most trying for us. From that moment on, we’re able to hold their hand and walk them through everything. Being able to do that, to help them heal, outweighs all the things that keep us up at night.”
Child Abuse Prevention Month
April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Gibson County child advocates typically spend those 30 days canvassing their communities to raise awareness of child abuse and the resources available to children and their caregivers. Gibson County Center leaders began planning for the special month in November, scheduling open houses and lining up visits to local civic clubs.
“All of that had to be canceled,” Jewell said.
The center has taken its message online, and Jewell encourages Facebook users to follow Gibson County Carl Perkins Center for daily updates, tips, and other resources to educate the public.
April also provides the center with impromptu fundraising opportunities as a more aware community looks for ways to support the center.
“We’re going to be minus that,” Jewell said, adding that the center expects local governments and businesses to reduce their donations to the center due to their own budget crises. “We’ll miss that funding piece. This is a hard hit for us. We rely on our community agencies and community support.”
If you would like to donate to the Gibson County Carl Perkins Center, which has offices in Humboldt, Trenton, and Milan, visit www.carlperkinscenter.org. Child Abuse Prevention Month T-shirts are also available for purchase, with proceeds benefitting the center.
Accredited Child Advocacy Center
The Gibson County Center recently completed a rigorous accreditation process, with the National Children’s Alliance re-accrediting it as a Child Advocacy Center for another five years. On top of the extensive application Jewell was required to submit, two site reviewers came and interviewed every Gibson County team member and sat in on one of the team’s monthly meetings.
“They raved about our investigative team and how well we work together,” Jewell said. “They told me they wish they could replicate that in every center.”
Jewell also credits the Carl Perkins Center President/CEO Pam Nash and Vice President Delaine Bottoms, both who have been with the center since its inception, for their careful oversight of the network of centers and their commitment to using best practices in every program.
Jewel said there are about 50 accredited child advocacy centers in the state, and the Carl Perkins Center accounts for six of those. Being accredited helps centers access national funding as well as grant funding from the Department of Children’s Services.
Report child abuse
If you see child abuse happening, you should call 911 immediately. If you suspect child abuse, contact local law enforcement at 911 or the Department of Children’s Services at 1-877-237-0004. The Carl Perkins Center also has a crisis hotline – 1-800-273-4747.