"To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart."
I keep this quote in mind as our Team works on some of the most difficult cases you can possibly imagine. To look into the eyes of a five-year-old and see deep-rooted pain, sadness, and fearfulness is heart-breaking. Many of the young child victims of abuse that we serve have endured circumstances that would break an adult's spirit. Yet, their courage, resilience, and hopefulness inspire me daily. So often I am reminded of how precious life is and how important it is to protect our loved ones, especially our children.
Our Team at the Gingerbread House Child Advocacy Center dedicates its efforts to reducing the trauma experienced by child victims of sexual and severe physical abuse, including child sex trafficking. We are able to carry out our mission by employing a multidisciplinary approach to cases throughout the investigation, prosecution, and treatment phases. The multidisciplinary team approach has been proven as the best practice standard for handling child abuse cases. By coordinating services through the Multidisciplinary Team we reach out into the community and bring together twenty-five agencies representing law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, medical, and mental health.
At the Gingerbread House, children and youth ages 2-16 receive professional forensic interviews conducted in a child-friendly manner at a non-threatening facility. By promoting a caring environment, children feel more at ease to disclose the horrific details of their abuse. The interviews are recorded to reduce the number of times a child has to tell his or her story. Imagine having to talk to strangers about perhaps the most difficult event you have ever had to experience. Now imagine having to do that 8-10 times. Stop for just a moment and think of how difficult that would be as an adult and how much more difficult that would be if you were a young child. Prior to 1998, that was the reality of a child abuse victim in northwest Louisiana. Children often "talked to" 8-11 different adults before any actions were taken. As a result, less than 5% of cases were successfully prosecuted. Since the inception of the Gingerbread House in 1998, we have been able to reduce the number of interviews in most cases to just one. Prosecution rates have increased (over 97% successful prosecution of cases accepted by the District Attorney's office) and the trauma experienced by victims has decreased, a win-win for all.
To provide a foundation where the healing process can begin is the goal of our therapeutic approach. Our Counseling and Family Advocacy programs are staffed by professionals who not only have the professional capacity to carry out this difficult work but also are also full of compassion. And that makes ALL the difference. Children feel safe and welcomed at our Center. It is through this approach that we are able to "reach" them and help them cope with the abuse. We work with the non-offending caregivers to provide support and education so that the adults will be better equipped to protect and support their children. Our Child Life Program helps lower stress levels in children as they are going through the forensic interview process.
Our efforts in the prevention and risk-reduction arena are geared toward reaching children before they become victims, as well as educating adults on strategies to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse. We must all join hands through education to fight the epidemic of abuse. Our education program includes three different curricula. Knowledge is Power is a body safety educational curriculum geared for children in preschool through middle school. The program also has components for mandated reporters and parents and is offered to schools, both public and private, at no charge. Our Knowledge is Power curriculum has been approved by the Bossier, Caddo, and Webster School Boards. The Stewards of Children by Darkness to Light is a child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for adults. The Gingerbread House is a facilitator of this nationally recognized, outcomes-based prevention program. The Gingerbread House is also a facilitator of the nationally recognized Love 146: Not a #Number, which is a child sex trafficking prevention program for youth ages 12-18. All of these programs are offered free of charge to allow the most benefit for our community. Our staff also presents at local, regional, and state conferences on a variety of child abuse and human trafficking topics to help train professionals on the importance of these issues and their impact on our children and communities.
Finally, we are an Accredited Member of the National Children's Alliance, the highest recognition possible for a child advocacy center in the United States. We are also a member of the Louisiana Alliance of Children's Advocacy Centers, our state organization and we partner with local and state initiatives to help promote our message in order to keep children safe from abuse.
For the past seventeen years, I have had the privilege of leading the Gingerbread House as Chief Executive Officer. Faith, Courage, Perseverance, and Hope... are the guiding principles that inspire me as I continue to fight on behalf of innocent children who have been abused.
Thank you for joining hands with us as we continue to Help the Hurt.