2017-04-02 / Insight

Child Advocacy Center offers help for victims of abuse, neglect

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Michigan State Police Det. Brian Reece; Star Sawgle, Child Advocacy Center’s volunteer coordinator; Amanda Overland, CAC’s prevention coordinator; Heather Frayer, CAC’s executive director; Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Det./Sgt. Bob Wells; Lauren Broihban, CAC’s client coordinator; Emily Switzka, CAC’s intake coordinator; and Lapeer Police Dept. Det./Sgt. Craig Gormley hold a banner promoting Child Abuse Prevention Month during April. 
Photo by Phil Foley Michigan State Police Det. Brian Reece; Star Sawgle, Child Advocacy Center’s volunteer coordinator; Amanda Overland, CAC’s prevention coordinator; Heather Frayer, CAC’s executive director; Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Det./Sgt. Bob Wells; Lauren Broihban, CAC’s client coordinator; Emily Switzka, CAC’s intake coordinator; and Lapeer Police Dept. Det./Sgt. Craig Gormley hold a banner promoting Child Abuse Prevention Month during April. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER — Childhood is supposed to be a happy time, but for an alarming number of children across the state, it’s anything but.

According to statistics from Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services, Lapeer County had 302 confirmed cases of child abuse/neglect in 2014, the latest year numbers are available. With 19,403 children under the age of 17 in the county, that gave Lapeer County the second lowest abuse/neglect rate in the Thumb region at 15.6 children per 1,000, putting Lapeer County right at the state average but higher than Wayne County’s 14.1.


Lapeer Police Dept. Det./Sgt. Craig Gormley, Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Det./Sgt. Bob Wells and Michigan State Police Det. Brian Reece stopped by the Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County Thursday to kick off Child Abuse Prevention Month. All three investigate crimes against children and sit on the center’s board. 
Photo by Phil Foley Lapeer Police Dept. Det./Sgt. Craig Gormley, Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Det./Sgt. Bob Wells and Michigan State Police Det. Brian Reece stopped by the Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County Thursday to kick off Child Abuse Prevention Month. All three investigate crimes against children and sit on the center’s board. Photo by Phil Foley The bright spot is Lapeer County has one of only 36 Child Advocacy Centers in the state.

Nine years ago, prosecutors, law enforcement, Child Protective Services (CPS), medical providers and others decided there had to be a better way to handle one of the worst days in any child’s life.

A year later the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Lapeer County opened. It provides a one-stop location for victims of abuse and neglect.

Prior to the center’s opening in 2009, children had to “relive their trauma over and over again,” said Heather Frayer, who’s been with the center from the beginning and its executive director since January 2016.

Now, instead of having to tell their story multiple times to school officials, CPS workers, police and prosecutors, children meet once with a trained forensic interviewer in a relaxed atmosphere.

Prior to the creation of the CAC child abuse victims, their families and local law enforcement had to travel to Flint, which Frayer said was often difficult to arrange and increased stress levels for the children involved.

The CAC, said Det. Brian Reece of the Michigan State Police, offers “a better way” to handle suspected child abuse victims.

Lapeer Police Det./ Sgt. Craig Gormley said it’s worked so well that Tuscola and Sanilac counties used the facility until they created their own.

The CAC’s $320,000 annual budget comes through state and federal sources as well as local fund raising, which has played an ever more important role since there have been steady cuts in state and federal funding for child abuse prevention in recent years.

The CAC offers a “Personal Safety Awareness Program” to every school, church and community organization in the county. Frayer said it’s important for children to know what’s okay and what’s not.

She said by the time they turn 18 one in three girls and one in four boys will be the victim of sexual abuse in some form. Frayer added 90 percent will know their abuser and 68 percent of the abusers will be a family member. That’s why CAC, said Frayer, provides counseling services designed to serve the entire family.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. During the month CAC is participating in the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign to draw attention to abuse and neglect.

CAC staff and others will meet at 11 a.m. Friday (April 7) at ELGA Credit Union in Lapeer to plant a pinwheel garden. The blue pinwheels are intended to be a reminder that children deserve a chance to grow and thrive.

Child abuse, Reece observed, is “cyclical. People who are victims as children tend to become abusers as adults.” To break the cycle, he said, there has to be a collaborative effort between law enforcement, social services and schools.

Frayer noted that along with conducting 130 interviews last year, the center provided services to 550 families. Child abuse, she said “effects the whole family” not just the victim.

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