By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the city of Newkirk has joined hands with Dearing House, in Ponca City, to recognize child abuse and work toward its prevention.
Mayor Brian Hobbs signed a proclamation recognizing Child Abuse Prevention Month at the March 23 city commission meeting.
“(Dearing House) is an important partner, and we want to support them any way we can,” said City Manager Ryan Smykil. “If we can bring awareness to this, we’re happy to do so.”
Child Abuse Prevention Month was recognized by the federal government in 1983.
“It goes back decades to when the federal government, as well as state and local governments, began to realize child abuse is not something that happens (only) in private; it affects the community,” said Dearing House Director Maggi Hutchason. “When you look at child abuse, it is truly a national health crisis.”
Child abuse also impacts the future of not only the victims, but the community as a whole.
“What happens is, when a child’s needs are not being met, they can’t reach their full potential,” Hutchason said. “It’s a house of cards. If our children don’t grow up to be healthy, productive citizens, the community suffers, too.”
DearIng House was founded in 2003 as an advocacy group coordinating response to abused victims. Located in the 300 Block of South 13thSt., Dearing House was named for Charles Dearing, a Newkirk native who lived at the property prior to moving to an assisted living center. The house was converted to a facility to help children who may be victims of abuse.
As an advocacy organization, Dearing House provides a safe haven for abused children, and works with child welfare, law enforcement in Kay and Noble counties, including local and Tribal police departments, the Kay and Noble county sheriffs offices, as well as the district attorney’s office for both counties, to provide a safe space for investigators to work with the victims.
“When a report of child abuse is made to police, and it involves serious child abuse and neglect allegations, they call us to help them gather information from the child about about their circumstance and experiences,” she said. “Dearing House is a hub so that all the individual agencies that are responding to child abuse allegations can work together and be more effective in child abuse investigations. Newkirk officers are great to work with.”
Part of how Dearing House performs this role is by providing a safe place for the children to be interviewed by specially trained forensic interviewers.
“Dearing House is a child-friendly place so kids are not intimidated,” Hutchason said. “It’s hard to talk to kids on the front porch when the alleged offender is in the other room.”
Dearing House leaders work hard to make the house child-friendly. Those steps include lots of toys, bright colors and unique wall patterns to calm down the children.
“We have one family here at a time, and we also have lots of adults present,” she said. “The facility is peaceful and friendly, and we also have the technology to record the interview so the courts can receive the interview.”
The interview process is known as ‘forensic interviewing.’
“It is a formal method of asking questions that doesn’t inform the answer,” she said. “Law enforcement and Dearing House are both trained to talk to children, but with forensic interviews, every aspect of the child’s well-being, that is what we as advocates look at.”
There are many forms of abuse children are subjected to, including physical, emotional, verbal and sexual, and it is the sexual form of abuse on which Dearing House focuses, but all forms are investigated at some point.
There are also other forms of abuse.
“We also work with children who have witnessed domestic violence, or witnessed a homicide,” she said. “A child rarely experiences one type of abuse. A child who has experienced sexual abuse, may also suffer emotional abuse, neglect, lack of supervision.”
Dearing House sees about 100 abuse victims a year, and they feel that number is too high, as no child should ever be abused.
“One child is too many,” Hutchason said. “People are surprised. At Dearing House, we typically get about 100 cases a year, and we only see the most severe cases, meaning there are other children out there in harm’s way. That’s why the community must be willing to recognize, respond and report abuse…to be a voice for a child in need.”
Until child abuse is eradicated, Dearing House will be an open advocate for the most vulnerable members of society.
“That’s the goal of an advocacy center like Dearing House – it’s to bring everyone together so we are covering all the bases, so that we can work together as a team to figure out what’s happened with the child and how we can make things better,” she said.
For more information, contact Dearing House, at (580) 762-5266 or visit www.dearinghouse.com.