April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Limestone Child Advocacy Center is doing its part to help raise awareness on the issue.
The organization will be planting a blue pinwheel garden in downtown Athens next week, and two blue wreaths currently adorn the center’s door at 104 E. Washington St. in honor of the month.
Despite the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to help youth in the county, many residents are either unaware of exactly what Limestone CAC does or even that the group exists, according to Ann Chandler, a child forensic interview specialist who works with the nonprofit.
“We provide services to children and their family members when there is an allegation of abuse or severe neglect,” she said. “The child could be a witness to a crime or could have been a victim of sexual or physical abuse. We receive referrals from (the Department of Human Resources) and law enforcement.”
Forensic interviews are legally justifiable, fact-finding interviews with a child conducted by specially trained professionals at the request of law enforcement or DHR, according to the Limestone CAC website. Chandler said these interviews are conducted in a very child-friendly location in rooms decorated in bright colors.
“The room the children are interviewed in is not a cold, sterile interview room like where perps are interrogated,” Chandler said. “Our people are specially trained in interviewing children in a child- and family-friendly atmosphere.”
Once interviewed, the Limestone CAC can refer a child for therapy services, and the nonprofit will continue to aid victims and their families throughout the court process if the case is tried.
Chandler said Limestone CAC has therapists on staff trained in trauma therapy as well as a victim advocate that keeps in touch with families even after the legal process is complete.
“We provide a support group for non-offending parents and guardians,” she said. “We have a child abuse prevention program we teach in the school system. We are also able to provide training throughout the community to make adults more aware of things they need to be looking out for and how to respond if they have a suspicion of abuse or have a child disclose to them.”
The center will also provide training to various church or community organizations as well as holding a parenting class.
Chandler said children who end up in foster care frequently enter the system with nothing but the clothes on their back, so Limestone CAC has partnered with Belles & Beaus in Athens to maintain a clothes closet.
“I believe our service is very important,” she said. “We are the only child advocacy center in Limestone County. We are the only agency that provides some of these services. Limestone County is a very rapid-growing county, and we expect in the years to come our agency will have to grow along with it.”
This year’s Child Abuse Prevention Month comes during a time when some cases of abuse or neglect are falling through the cracks. Chandler said the delay in court proceedings caused by COVID-19 has “affected everything.”
Even so, she said the center is continuing its work, which is important even in a tight-knit community.
“Sometimes, people don’t want to admit these kind of things happen in a place like Athens, but bringing awareness is important because these things happen everywhere across the board.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Limestone CAC can call 256-998-5556.
“We are a nonprofit, so we are always looking for people to help support us,” Chandler said.