The community is invited to attend an open house/reception at the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25. The event is being held in recognition of April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.
“Having an open house during the month of April allows the public the opportunity to learn what we do at the Gingerbread House,” forensic interviewer Teresa Evans said. “It also allows us to interact with the parents of children and show them ways to prevent their child from being abused. I would like to invite any concerned parent to come to the center during our open house and learn more about child abuse and how to prevent it.”
Statistics are showing an upward trend in the number of cases being handled by the center.
“We are seeing a rise in the volume of cases at the Gingerbread House, which is very alarming but also stresses to us the importance of our service to Ellis County,” board president Brad Shotts said. “We are here to help each victim and give them the support they need so they can live without fear or further abuse.”
The come-and-go event will feature tours of the facility, with refreshments offered. Executive director John Wyckoff, staff members and board trustees will be on hand to visit with people and answer any questions.
“We’re inviting the community for a tour of our center, to meet the staff and the board members and to learn more of what we provide for Ellis County,” Wyckoff said. “We also want to let the community know about our project for this year, which is to add to the existing counselor’s office a play therapy room to provide counseling for the younger children.”
Wyckoff also noted the increase in number of cases being reported to the center.
“Our peak year previously was fiscal year 2008-2009, when we had 217 cases. We are on pace to exceed that previous high number of forensic interviews,” he said, with Evans noting the center previously averaged from 15-17 interviews a month.
“Right now, we are averaging over 20 interviews each month,” she said.
The center has conducted 153 interviews to date in fiscal year 2011-2012, which ends Aug. 31. Of those interviews, 114 have related to sexual abuse, with 14 for physical abuse. Twenty-five interviews have been done with child witnesses.
Of the victims this fiscal year to date, 97 have been female, with 56 male. Thirty-two have been age 5 and younger, 65 have been age 6-12, 55 have been age 13-17 with one age 18 and older.
Data collected by the center indicates 71 adult perpetrators, 23 juvenile perpetrators with six unknown. Of the perpetrators, 84 have been male, with nine females. The perpetrators have included known non-relatives (34 percent), other relatives (15 percent), biological father (13 percent), stepfather (11 percent), paramour of mother (5 percent) and mother (5 percent). Sibling and stepsibling abuse has been reported in 9 percent of the cases, with foster/adopt parents accounting for 5 percent. Stranger abuse has been reported in 2 percent of the cases.
The Gingerbread House provides a child-friendly atmosphere for child victims of sexual and or serious physical abuse while serving as a member of a multi-disciplinary team that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and child protective services officials. Forensic interviews are conducted with alleged victims as part of an investigation into suspected abuse, with interviews also done with children who may have witnessed a crime.
The Gingerbread House saw its inception in 1998, when its board was formed. The center opened for services in December 1999 in office space at the Texas Baptist Home. Wyckoff was named executive director in May 2001 and, in 2004, with the need for additional room, the Gingerbread House relocated to an office suite at the Comerica Bank building.
A capital campaign was launched, with the center moving into its own building at the corner of Ross and Farley streets in December 2007. A counseling program for the children it serves was implemented in October 2010.
Current projects include the addition of a play therapy room in 2012.