It’s springtime in Mississippi. Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and flower gardens are blooming vibrantly, delighting us with their beauty and disrupting us with their pollen.
This month, Canopy Children’s Solutions (Canopy) is planting its own delightful, disruptive gardens across our state. In front of homes and businesses, flocks of blue pinwheels will dance in the wind, reminding us of the whimsy of childhood. These pinwheels are the official symbol of Child Abuse Awareness Month, placed intentionally to promote the importance of communities working together to raise awareness and ultimately end child abuse.
With community collaboration, forensic interviewers at Canopy’s South Mississippi Child Advocacy Centers (SMCAC) are able to identify, investigate and ultimately prosecute incidents of child abuse. Using their “Child First” protocol, SMCAC determines both the severity of the abuse experienced and the treatment needed for the child in one interview, without the child having to retell and relive the trauma they experienced over and over to the different agencies involved: the police, a doctor, a social worker, a counselor, an investigator and so on. By telling their story one time, the SMCAC ensures children experience as little undue stress as possible.
“In order for children to have the trauma that they experienced resolved, they need people like Canopy’s South Mississippi Child Advocacy team to help them along the way,” says Sabreniee Wright, Director of Canopy’s SMCAC. “There is hope when children have access to therapeutic resources and can begin healing.”
Canopy can’t do it alone though. Law enforcement, Child Protection Services, mental and/or medical health professionals, and all other relevant parties must work together to ensure every abused child receives the protection they deserve. By collaborating with multidisciplinary teams to streamline the process, Canopy’s SMCAC brings together all the services and resources needed to protect the child under one roof. From there, SMCAC is able to aim its focus toward treatment for the child and prosecution for the offender.
Wright continues, “Our team goes above and beyond every day to make sure children and their families are getting the justice they deserve. Helping children is a passion.”
By planting pinwheel gardens in April, Canopy brings awareness to the fact that child abuse happens in every community, and everyone in the community must work together to end it. Canopy also aims to educate the general population on the warning signs of child abuse by distributing printed resources to the establishments behind the pinwheel gardens.
Canopy’s awareness efforts spread far beyond pinwheel gardens in April though. Throughout the year, Canopy’s SMCAC can be found at community awareness events, educating passersby on identifying children in need, and in front of television crews, highlighting their cases and services for local news stations. Canopy’s SMCAC also collaborates with schools to promote their awareness curriculum, “It’s Okay To Tell.” Designed to address abuse in an effective but sensitive way, this curriculum encourages students to speak to a trusted adult if they or someone they know is in a dangerous situation.
Adults shouldn’t just wait for children to speak out, however. “Many adults don’t want to say anything because they feel it’s not their place,” Wright says. “They’re not 100% positive, so they just leave it be.” The success of child advocacy centers everywhere depends on adults who are willing to advocate for the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children in abusive situations. Mississippi’s 24-hour child abuse hotline (1-800-222-8000) allows anyone who suspects a child is being abused to file an anonymous report. SMCAC also encourages caregivers to take a child to a medical facility for an examination if felonious abuse is suspected. If you see something, say something.
Many adults carry unresolved trauma from childhood, and likely never even knew there was an organization that could help them. That’s where the staff members of SMCAC find their passion. Every time they get a prosecution, every time they remove a child from a dangerous environment, every time they see a child’s anxiety transform into confidence, they know their mission is working. As Wright states, “We take the unresolved trauma that we have within us and use it for good – to help this vulnerable population. For me, it just does not get any better than that. Then having these advocates who have lived this experience help today’s children heal from their trauma.”
To learn more about Canopy’s South Mississippi Child Advocacy Center, click here or call 228.868.8686.