By COLLEEN HORNING
Daily Light staff writer
April was National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and the Gingerbread House, Ellis County’s Children’s Advocacy Center, held an open house April 25 to bring awareness to the community.
As abuse statistics continue to rise in Ellis County, the center is stepping up its efforts to deal with the scenarios that result from these types of situations. The child-friendly environment promotes a coordinated intervention process that is designed to minimize further trauma to the child.
“We realize that as our county grows that it’s likely our cases will, too, so we want to educate as many people as we can on this,” John Wyckoff, Gingerbread House executive director said. “We do realize that more cases are being reported, but the record number of cases that we’ve had was in the fiscal year of 2009 at 217, and it’s probable that this year we’ll have 230 reported cases.”
Wyckoff added that the center’s goal is to enhance the investigative and prosecution process while providing quality legal, psychological, social and medical services to abused children. The case criterion includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, child fatality, child witness and sexual and physical abuse. The clients that are seen are ages 3-17.
“Child abuse happens every day, and if we can communicate to the community how to help victims of this, we will make headway in the prevention of it,” Wyckoff said. “If you see something that you think is abuse, please report it. In fact, the law dictates that you have to report, so please do the right thing.”
Wyckoff also explained that the board of directors for the Gingerbread House features a representative from multiple areas of the county, including a member from the county district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s department, child protective services, juvenile probation and the county judge.
Brad Shotts, the Gingerbread House board president, stressed the importance of promoting communication in the community.
“The more attentive you are about your surroundings, the more you can help the child who cries out,” Shotts said. “The center enables the child to only have to tell their story one time. Our center helps the victim, and even after the fact, we’re focused on helping that child or teen along with their families who are also going through the healing process.
“Open your ears and eyes and be willing to help others. Yes, a few of the kids will shut down and hold this sort of thing in, but the mass of the victims will tell somebody,” he said. “Our counselor, Jamie English, is part of the process that keeps this process in motion, and I’m impressed with what she’s doing.”
English joined the Gingerbread House in June 2011, and she has also been a forensic interviewer. She says these children and families have a special place in her heart.
“Sometimes a child needs a voice, and since I’m trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, this helps in lowering the anxiety these kids are feeling,” English said. “It also helps them tell their emotions, plus I’m able to help prepare them for their time in court.”
English said that for many of these children, that moment in court is one of empowerment as they face their accuser.
“It is our goal to help raise their self-esteem and help these kids express their emotions,” English said. “We also want to help the parent (if not the alleged perpetrator) through these tough times.”
Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 1 Dennis Robinson sees the importance of what Gingerbread House does and is a believer in keeping communication lines open.
“The other commissioners and myself realize the importance of what the Gingerbread House offers,” Robinson said. “Each year we adopt a resolution to honor this month of awareness, and we will do anything we can to support it.”
The Blue Knights XXI motorcycle club is also a huge supporter. The international law enforcement club that represents Ellis County has chosen the Gingerbread House as its charity of choice. Ken Reeves, who is president for the organization and is a retired Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, explained that 90 percent of its members are law enforcement officers.
“Since most of us are from agencies whose mission is to protect children, we feel like working with this center is a good way to give back,” Reeves said. “When we were in law enforcement we saw this kind of hurt all of the time, and it breaks my heart to think that these kids have been abused. Giving back this way is very satisfying.”
Another Blue Knights XXI member, Bob Adams, explained that this cause helps its members go to the next level when helping child abuse victims.
“When we were out there working, you did everything you could to make good cases,” Adams said. “So now that I’m retired, I can focus my attention as an individual and club member to make sure these kids get the help and support they need.”
Adams is also the chairman for the Blue Knights XXI Second Annual Golf Scramble, which was scheduled April 30 at the Old Brickyard in Ferris as a benefit for the Gingerbread House.
If you would like more information on the Gingerbread House, call 972-937-1870. Its location is 425 Ross St. in Waxahachie.
Contact Colleen at 469-517-1452 or email@example.com
(Used with permission)