Have you ever known anyone who had been abused as a child and suffered emotional trauma in adulthood? Depending on the severity of the abuse, they might carry the scars of those childhood experiences throughout their lives.
There are thousands of children living in abusive situations. They live with it because they’re too young, innocent, and powerless to break free. Whether it’s sexual abuse, or repeated physical assault, these future adults suffer in silence in a world that must appear cruel and hostile to them. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to grow up in loving, nurturing households cannot begin to understand the torment and self-devaluation that these children face each day. Living in a world of giants, they need to rely on the decency of those who have authority over them. When their trust has been violated, to whom do they turn? Hopefully, someone will notice their distress and intervene.
Perhaps a schoolteacher observes that a student’s academic grades have taken a downward turn. Maybe a next-door neighbor has, from time to time, noticed unusual bruises on a child. Or, as is the case very often, the non-offending parent might file a report with the police, alleging misconduct toward the child. That’s when the child protection agencies swing into action. Providing a safe, non-threatening atmosphere, the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) for Denton County offers a child friendly environment so necessary during the early stages of trauma reduction. There was a time, not long ago, when investigations were conducted in the cold, severe surroundings of a police station. Such an atmosphere can further traumatize a child who has already been struggling to survive in an oppressive climate.
In addition, the CAC provides professional counselors who serve an emotional healing function that gently moves the child from a state of confusion and shock, to one of comfort and security. It is especially important at this time to reduce the fear and anxiety of a child who will need to be involved in the criminal justice process subsequent to the offender’s arrest. Recently, my wife and I were among a few others who had been invited to tour the CAC at 1854 Cain Drive in Lewisville. The work being done by the staff is nothing short of phenomenal! There’s an Assistant District Attorney with an office on premises who is there a couple of days during each week. During Wednesday meetings, the ADA, local police detectives, Child Protective Services and their onsite nurse, will be in attendance. They also have specially trained staff for sexual abuse interviews, with three bilingual staff members.
Dan Leal has been the Executive Director of CAC since 2002. Born in Victoria, Texas, he graduated from UNT and worked as a sports broadcaster in college and on the radio. Also a student of public relations, Dan worked with the Denton County MHMR for two years as Public Information Officer and Director of Community Relations. In addition, he helped form the Homeless Coalition in 1999, which helped homeless people become more self-sufficient. The CAC has 13 full-time and 3 part-time childcare providers who take care of the children while parents are being counseled. Add to that, 24 interns and 150 volunteers and you have a veritable army of compassionate warriors fighting to protect the most vulnerable among us. Included in those warriors are the Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), a formidable group with chapters all over the world providing additional support and encouragement to abused kids. They donate their time to be a big brother/sister to the children when they need the feeling of security at court, or in some cases, when they feel their abuser may be stalking them.
The 14,000 square foot facility handled 1830 cases in 2012; 1,000 were children and the remainder were adults for counseling sessions. Their current budget is $1.25 million. Some of their funding comes from annual events like the Champions for Children Gala at Circle R Ranch in Flower Mound; the Lantana Golf Club Tournament; and the Cloud 9 Art and Fashion shows.
During a recent coffee with Dan at our home, we learned how devoted he is to the protection of children. His concern for the plight of those kids and his deep understanding of abuse comes from a personal sexual abuse case by his grandfather when he was nine. He can easily relate to the fear and confusion that children feel, as well as the mistrust of those who are closest to them during these events. His former wife, who died a few years back from alcoholism, was a product of child abuse, which gave him an even deeper understanding of how deadly such abuse can be. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he speaks about the children he’s helped. “I see the healing taking place,” he said, adding, “I see kids able to smile again and I know that God has chosen this for me.” The children’s hotline number is 1-800-252-5400 to report suspected abuse.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.