Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson said the tour of a children’s advocacy center office in Benton County several years ago helped her to get involved with the group that now boasts a statewide network.
She has plans to help the advocacy center’s mission through her high-profile position.
Hutchinson is working on a statewide effort to educate people about the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas’ work and to raise critical funding to help children in need.
According to the group’s website, the centers help to “promote, assist and support the development, growth and continuation of Children’s Advocacy Centers in the state of Arkansas so that every child victim has access to the services of a CAC.”
Hutchinson, who later joined the board in Benton County, said children’s advocacy centers help children who face sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
The help may involve everything from long-term counseling to helping law enforcement interview suspected victims of abuse.
There are currently 14 centers around the state, Hutchinson said.
“They serve more than one county,” Hutchinson said of the current operation. “There are some who have to drive up to two hours to a center.”
One of the centers include a “child friendly” room at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
As for the interviews, Hutchinson said each of the interviewers are specifically trained to ask questions and to do so in an appropriate way.
However, Hutchinson pointed out that the centers do not investigate abuse allegations.
“We exist to look after the child,” Hutchinson said. “To ask appropriate questions if it takes two or three hours.”
The group also works to offer help to families that may face the abuse issue head-on.
While not discussing any specific cases, Hutchinson said children who are abused face overwhelming pressure from their abuser including intimidation and mind control games.
The centers help to alleviate that, Hutchinson said.
“It is very child friendly. We have toys and chairs their size. There are no bars on the windows,” Hutchinson said, noting children are immediately told they are in a safe place.
Another part of the center’s work involves educating people like police chiefs, school counselors, principals, parents and church leaders about abuse, Hutchinson said.
Part of the education involves looking at the so-called “Circle of Trust,” Hutchinson said.
“There is no way to tell … a teacher, a preacher or a neighbor,” Hutchinson said of possible abusers. “It may be a normal person but they have a real dark side.”
The victim can face difficulties as well.
“Some commit suicide, some hit other kids, become introverted and have an anger problem,” Hutchinson said. “Some even go to prison. It is an effort to heighten awareness and our motto is ‘break the cycle for one child.’”
Another part of the opportunity to help involves a multi-discipline committee in the state. The group, made up of prosecutors, counselors, officials with the Department of Human Services and advocates, meets once a month to discuss what is needed for children who face abuse, Hutchinson said.
The group, a 501-c-3, receives the lion’s share of its funding from donations and grants, does not charge for help and does not receive Medicaid or insurance, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson will participate in a campaign this year to help educate people about the issue.
A public service announcement with Hutchinson will highlight the state’s new hotline to report physical or sexual abuse, 1-844-SAVE-A-CHILD.
Hutchinson said the number, which is still being tested, will automatically roll over to the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children hotline.
Also, Hutchinson will receive the group’s Arkansas Woman of Inspiration Award during an Oct. 23 event in Little Rock, the group’s executive director, Stacy Thompson, said.
Thompson said the Little Rock event will help raise awareness and education about the issue as well as serving as a fundraiser.
Thompson said she is hopeful that the PSA, a new website, logo and social media campaign will help educate people about the group’s work.
Also, Thompson said a 2013 law, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, has provided abuse victims help.
The law, Act 114 of 2013, removed the statute of limitations for rape and sexual abuse charges under certain circumstances.