Article by: William Dean, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — Champions for child welfare will have a bit more resources at their fingertips soon.
The Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center received more than $80,000 through the state’s child advocacy grant program.
“We’re very appreciative the government and legislature are so supportive of making sure children in West Virginia are healthy and get the support they need to grow into healthy, productive adults,” MCCAC Executive Director Laura Capage said.
The $80,890 grant is part of $2.1 million given to child advocacy centers across the state, according to Gov. Jim Justice’s office.
“Severe cases of abuse and neglect are among the most horrific things you could ever imagine happening to a child,” Justice said. “I have so much pride in this program because it helps us bring whoever would do these kinds of things to kids to justice.”
The money will be used to continue to provide resiliency services for children in the county, Capage said.
Those services include forensic interviews, family advocacy, education and therapy. The child advocacy center works with a range of professionals to help keep children safe and identify the best services for them, Capage said. The center also offers support to parents — all with the goal of helping children move beyond any adverse experiences they’ve had.
The grant comes at a needed time as the center was not able to hold its yearly fundraiser and other sources of funding have been reduced because COVID-19, Capage said.
The center has continued to offer its full services throughout the pandemic.
There have been fewer reports of child abuse and neglect cases over the past few months, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, Capage said.
“While many of us are at home staying safe or limiting activities outside of the house, hundreds of children in West Virginia, including Mon County, are stuck at home in very unsafe environments and not safe,” Capage said. “I’m very concerned about them.”
While stuck at home, the children are also not in contact with the mandatory reporters, such as teachers, they would regularly see.
“While physical distancing has been and continues to be necessary in light of the pandemic, children may not have contact with those in more traditional roles, such as teachers, daycare workers and coaches, who all play an important part in detecting and reporting signs of maltreatment,” said Audra Hamrick, director of undergraduate studies and public health practice and service learning and assistant professor in the School of Public Health.
Maltreatment can have long-term consequences, and the sooner abuse is reported the better the likely outcome, according to Hamrick.
Capage said she expects to see a surge of reports, especially once children go back to school.
“I think we’re going to see a decrease in funding at the same time we see a need for an increase in our services,” Capage said.
For many children, time spent outside the home is a safe time. Kids often bear the brunt of stress and frustration at home and the pandemic has introduced plenty of that, Capage said.
One of the biggest indicators of an adverse experience is a child whose personality changes, Capage said. There are also obvious physical injuries to keep an eye out for, such as suspicious bruising.
While it’s important to maintain social distancing, it’s also important to check in with kids, ask them how they are doing and give them an opportunity to open up, she said. If a child expresses something negative has happened, report it to Child Protective Services and law enforcement.
Capage urged people who might be struggling to call the center for support and advice.
One tip parents should keep in mind is to take some time to take care of themselves, be it a bubble bath, walk outside or exercise.
“I think oftentimes parents are trying to take care of all the kiddos and all the other needs and don’t take some time to replenish themselves. But you need to take care of yourself to be the best you,” Capage said.