HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - This year, Children’s Advocacy Centers across the state are celebrating 20 years of serving children and families through the hard times of abuse cases and recovery.
Centers are participating in an awareness campaign called “I Protect Children” to further their message.
“For 20 years this network that we’ve developed – really the importance of that is it’s kind of helped to make sure that for any child and family that walks through the doors of a child advocacy center, that there’s this natural unified response in how these children are being served,” said DiDi Ellis, executive director of the Kid’s Hub, a Child Advocacy Center in Hattiesburg.
Riley Herrin, a forensic interviewer for child abuse victims said she’s grateful for the network of CACs. As a survivor, she has experienced and sees the good the centers are doing.
“It’s not a secret to anybody I work with or anybody that really knows me that I have a history of childhood sexual abuse,” Herrin said. “And that history has certainly shaped and molded the way that I came into this field and why I came into this field.”
Herrin is specifically trained to help children through the details of their experience in one interview that can be used for their case and recovery.
“We’re wanting to limit the amount of trauma,” Herrin said. “Children have already experienced some type of trauma to get to me and so by giving them one interview instead of multiple interviews, it really lessens the chance that they’re going to be re-victimized or re-traumatized through this process.
“Whenever I initially disclosed the abuse that was happening to me as a child, my family was – we were a little lost. One of the very first things my family did was I had to go to an advocacy center and get a forensic interview.”
Now, Herrin spends her working hours conducting those interviews to help the next child and family in need.
“While it has shaped who I am as a person and it has gotten me to this point in my career, it’s not something that I reflect on a whole lot as I’m do my job because I want to make sure I’m doing my job to the best of my ability and in the interest of the children,” Herrin said.
The best interest of the child is the focus of these centers. The centers exist to guide children and families through the process working with investigators and to help them move forward, pointing them to recovery resources.
“What we really care about is that the child and family don’t fall through the different cracks within each of the different systems that they have to work with and, instead, as a team, we provide a seamless transition throughout the life of their case,” Ellis said.
The 20th-anniversary campaign focuses on awareness. Ellis believes that the more people looking out for children – the better.
“You never really know. You may think that the piece of information you have is so little and maybe unimportant, but in the grand scheme of that child’s life, it may be the one report that changes the course of where that kid heads,” Ellis said.
She hopes this anniversary campaign brings awareness to the work CACs do every day.
“And so for us that whole ‘I Protect Children’ movement is about all Mississippians recognizing that it’s their responsibility, it’s our responsibility, to stand up, report abuse and protect children,” Ellis said.