A furry, yellow canine named Josiah has been making the rounds to highlight National Child Abuse Prevention Month. April 6, Josiah and his entourage attended a Commissioners’ meeting to encourage the public to stand up, step forward, and help victims of child abuse become survivors. Then on April 17 he strolled the boardwalk surrounded by young fans for the CRICKET Center’s 8th Annual Walk for Kids.
Child abuse is a public health problem. Since opening its doors in 2009, the CRICKET Center, Worcester County’s child advocacy center (CAC), has served more than 1,500 Worcester childhood victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual assault, neglect, child pornography, or child sex trafficking. The CAC provides a specially trained forensic interviewer (each interview is recorded to avoid re-traumatizing children by requiring multiple interviews), medical exam by specially trained SAFE (sexual assault forensic examiner) nurse, family advocate, trauma-based therapy, and case coordination for child victims of abuse and non-offending family members in a safe and child-friendly environment.
“Child abuse does not discriminate, and it takes on many different forms,” CRICKET Center Board of Directors President Deborah Travers said. “But, we know that kids get better when they have access to these services.”
Josiah, the four-year old lab/golden retriever trained as a full assistance dog, is part of the multidisciplinary CAC team that strives to reduce the trauma to child victims of abuse and to prosecute their abusers. Josiah’s gentle disposition and calming presence makes him a safe space for children, as they navigate social, emotional, and legal struggles to overcome abuse.
“Josiah provides support to children during forensic interviews, during therapy sessions, and also while attending court proceedings,” CRICKET Center Executive Director Wendy Myers said.
In 2019, the CAC received 1,024 referrals, conducted 167 child physical abuse investigations, 93 child sexual abuse investigations, 282 child neglect investigations, 832 hours of trauma therapy, and 1,819 hours of family advocacy. Though the doors of the CRICKET Center have remained open throughout the pandemic, CAC officials advise that, due to the reduction of in-person learning in 2020, the impact of COVID is yet to be discovered.
“Worcester is not immune to the growing instances of child abuse, and it’s important to spread the word to the community that you are our eyes and ears,” Department of Social Services Director Roberta Baldwin said. “If you see something, say something.”
If you suspect abuse, CAC representatives urge you to take these steps. Listen to the child. Remain calm, and don’t let the child see how upset you may be. Lastly, even if you are not absolutely sure there has been abuse, contact the CAC at (410) 641-0097.
“Worcester is fortunate to have this professional team helping children and their families to heal and to start over,” Commission President Joe Mitrecic said. “But it takes all of us working together to detect abuse and neglect early or prevented it from occurring entirely.”
The Commissioners are proud supporters of the CAC, which never charges for their services. Instead, they depend on the generous support of local government grants and private donations. To learn more about the CAC or to donate, visit www.thecricketcenter.com.