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Helen’s Haven advocates for innocent, defenseless victims

POSTED: November 28, 2011 10:36 a.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray/

Terri Liles, a licensed master social worker and coordinator for Helen’s Haven Children’s Advocacy Center, explains that the toys and furniture in their play therapy room were donated by the community, and even the colorful seascape mural was created by volunteers.

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Helen’s Haven Children’s Advocacy Center defends the most defenseless, the most innocent among us by attempting to reduce further trauma to a possible child victim in a safe, non-threatening environment while evaluating suspected child abuse and providing support to the child and non-offending caregivers, according to Terri Liles, licensed master social worker and coordinator for Helen’s Haven in Hinesville.
“We provide services in cooperation with law enforcement and the Department of Family and Child Services,” Liles explained. “They typically make referrals to us, then we conduct a forensic investigation, gathering information in a non-biased manner.” Liles said theirs is a multi-service investigation with all parties participating in the interview there at the same time, so the child doesn’t have to be re-traumatized by separate interviews. The interviews are recorded on DVDs, she said, to document responses and prove answers are not coerced or manipulated.
“We see approximately 150-175 children a year where there are allegations of child abuse, whether it’s physical or sexual, child neglect or where children may be witnesses to a crime,” Liles said. “Since we opened our doors in 2005, we’ve seen about 850 children.
“Probably 75 percent of the abuse cases are girls, which are usually sexual abuse cases, and we see some very serious neglect problems where young children have been left unsupervised for extended periods without food and proper care.”
She said sometimes parents get in what she called a “tough place,” such as when a single parent is working long hours or the late shift, leaving young children without an adult in the house for eight or more hours. She noted that about 50 percent of the parents they work with also were victims of child abuse or neglect.
Liles is the only full-time staff member at Helen’s Haven, though there are part-time therapists as well. She said all of the furniture, equipment and toys have been donated by individuals, churches, governmental agencies and businesses, and all repairs and renovations were done by volunteers. Liles and her staff receive the latest specialized training and recently completed 14-month training on cognitive behavior therapy meant to help children recover from emotional and physical trauma.
“We want to make sure the whole child’s needs are being addressed,” she said. “We make use of community resources to help families, and we conduct workshops for Head Start and prekindergarten staffs and civic groups on bullying, teen safety, how to recognize child abuse and what parents should know about sexting.”
Liles said Helen’s Haven took part in a telehealth program that enabled it to receive special equipment through South Coast Medical Pediatrics in Richmond Hill, which will help Helen’s Haven better identify physical and sexual abuse.
There also is a telehealth program for mental-health services, which will allow them to expand their counseling services, she said.
They recently received a grant through United Way and Women’s Legion to provide transportation for their clients, including gas cards, Liberty Transit tickets, taxi and regional coach vouchers.
A workshop hosted by Helen’s Haven about the role of medical exams in sexual and physical child abuse investigations will be conducted at the Fraser Center conference room from
8 a.m.-noon Thursday, Liles said. To register for the workshop and the provided lunch, call 912-396-2326 or email
Helen’s Haven is named for Helen E. Stanford, a child advocate and community leader in Liberty County for more than 50 years.

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