Safe Harbor-Benefiting our Region’s Youth
Put yourself in this situation ~ a true story from a local family
A 7-year-old girl came into Safe Harbor for an interview and forensic exam. This little girl had been sexually abused. She arrived clutching her mother’s hand, with a scared look on her face. She was warmly greeted, and taken to the children’s room. The Forensic Nurse, Gail Perkins, sat with her at the little table in the playroom, and colored pictures with her. She began to relax, and finally let go of her mother’s hand. The mother was able to complete some paper work while the little girl and the nurse continued to color pictures. The little girl eagerly went into the interview room, and disclosed the details of her abuse. She then went into the forensic exam room, and was cooperative through the exam. She enjoyed watching T.V.
This little girl, who was terrified and hanging onto her mother when she arrived at Safe Harbor, was able to feel comfortable, relaxed and safe. She was engaged with the interviewer, and the forensic nurse. On her way out the door, this little girl looked up to her mom, smiled and said, “That was fun.”
Why We NEED Safe Harbor in our community:
Child abuse is a complex problem. Professionals in medicine, mental health, Child Protective Services, law enforcement, prosecution, and victim advocacy all may have a role in the process following a reported abuse. Suspected victims of child abuse often have to visit each agency separately, recounting their experiences and reliving their trauma over and over again. Out of fear, many parents do not report instances of sexual or other kinds of abuse because they do not want their child to be traumatized any further. At least, that is how it used to be in the Fredericksburg area.
The need for Safe Harbor has become evident in the past 10 years. Our region’s population growth pattern makes it one of the top population increase areas in Virginia. Unfortunately, as a result of the increased population and the recent downturn in the economy one of the side effects that our region is experiencing is the increase in child abuse cases.
In 2007, a steering committee comprised of nurses, prosecutors, detectives and child service workers established the foundation for a Child Advocacy Center in the Fredericksburg area that would serve victims of child abuse, age infancy to 17 years old. Prior to opening Safe Harbor, the community did not have child advocacy center. At that time, a child victim was interviewed by representatives of several different agencies. A child victim of sexual abuse was also subjected to an additional clinical interview by a forensic nurse examiner at the local hospital. Each of these interviews was conducted individually, at separate times and places, and by different people, often in an environment that was not child friendly.
In addition to the inefficient use of time spent by the child and his or her caregiver, the child often experienced stress and trauma related to the interviewing process, which compounded the abuse already experienced by the child. The various agencies that were conducting the investigations did not work collaboratively and often did not share information, thus many perpetrators were not held accountable as a result of the investigative process.
As the result the strong work of the steering committee and community need, Safe Harbor exists to strengthen the coordinated community response to situations of child maltreatment, including sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, severe neglect, and fatalities by integrating the existing resources of law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, medical and therapeutic agencies so that perpetrators are held accountable for the actions and children are not further traumatized by the investigative process. Now Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDT) from four jurisdictions (City of Fredericksburg, and the counties of Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George) work to provide services to child abuse victims starting from when the complaint is first reported and continuing through the prosecution of the case or until services are no longer needed.
The Process: The children who report abuse are interviewed at Safe Harbor by someone trained in the forensic interview process. As part of the MDT, law enforcement and Child Protective Services are present. The Commonwealth Attorney joins to provide the legal expertise, direct prosecution and meet with the victim and family. Forensic nurses are always available to examine the victim and provide a medical assessment of the child’s health and injuries. The victim advocates assist with crisis intervention, court preparation, crime victims compensation and access to services. Mental health referrals are made so that the counselors can treat the victims. Safe Harbor tracks the cases and provides ongoing case management as the case proceeds through the court system.
Unlike other agencies, Safe Harbor follows the child from the moment of the first report of abuse until the case goes to court or they no longer need our services. Safe Harbor’s child-friendly, community-oriented, facility-based program helps to provide a place in which the MDTs from the four jurisdictions come together to discuss and recommend appropriate comprehensive services to the victims of child abuse and neglect.
The collaborative approach and follow-up services through Safe Harbor ensure that children receive child-focused services where the child’s needs are the main priority. Non-offending family members find support, information, education and other services at Safe Harbor. This joint effort in a comfortable, child-friendly setting works to reduce trauma and prevent further victimization of children.
As the result of the program at Safe Harbor, the community agencies from the City of Fredericksburg, and the counties of Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline, collaborate and communicate to assure the best interest of the child. At Safe Harbor - the child is our first priority.
Since opening our doors May 1, 2009, Safe Harbor has served over 300 children. Want more info? Visit thier website today.