Try to imagine a world without the kind of people who volunteer their time and effort in service to others; the type of people who are rewarded, not with a paycheck, but with the knowledge that many people benefit from their selfless devotion to a cause.
Most of us would agree that among the many worthy endeavors engaged in by this army of volunteers, those who dedicate their efforts to protecting children from abuse are surely at the top of the list.
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 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 notices that one of the student’s academic grades has taken a downward turn. Maybe a next-door neighbor has, from time to time, observed 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 Denton County Children’s Advocacy Center 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 DCCAC 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.
There are other services equally important to the protection, care and adjudication of child abuse victims and in addition, victims of abusive spouses. The Denton County Friends of the Family has a 24 hour crisis hotline that offers counseling, information and referral, as well as a shelter for abused women and their children. Additionally, they have a team of trained volunteers who provide victims of sexual assault with an advocate at the local emergency room to provide clothing, information and support during evidence collection.
A visit to the shelter, which can only be accomplished with authorized approval, is an eye opening experience for the layman. Access to the location is not for public disclosure, since it would breach the security afforded the victims. In order to gain entrance, one must be accompanied by a representative of DCFOF, go through a security camera scan, be buzzed in to a holding area, and then be guided along a route that leads to another security camera and an alarm system. The reason for the elaborate safety precautions becomes apparent when one realizes that many of these victims are in constant danger from their abusers.
DCFOF provides a friendly, safe, non-judgmental atmosphere so essential to those who have had their self-esteem crushed when they found themselves battered, bruised, and struggling to survive. Most people would find it hard to believe that a place like DCFOF is still needed in a society that places special emphasis on the security of women and children. As a former board member of FOF, I’ve witnessed the misery of these broken families and I can assure you that the need still exists.
Another essential service in this supportive network is the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Denton County. Their purpose is to train community volunteers in order to prepare them to be advocates in court for children who have been removed from their homes by State of Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) because of abuse and/or neglect. The district courts in Denton County automatically appoint CASA to all cases in which a child is removed from his/her home.
Together, these three agencies form a compassionate bridge that reaches out to those who formerly believed they had been abandoned by an unsympathetic world. Had it not been for the commitment of a dedicated few, their belief might have been justified.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.