Sex crimes against children can have an everlasting effect on a child’s life. At Helen’s Haven here in Liberty County, Victim Advocate Rebecca Loskoski, Child and Family Advocate Helen Harris, and Coordinator Terry Liles work together to provide support to children who are victims of abuse.
Opening almost 14 years ago, Helen’s Haven is the children’s advocacy center for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit. They serve Bryan, Evans, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Tattnall counties. Sometimes the center may get referrals from outlying counties that do not have a children’s advocacy center, such as Effingham.
“We specialize in serving children and families where there are allegations of child abuse or victimization or trauma,” Liles said.
According to d2l.org, the average lifetime cost per victim of child abuse is $210,012. The costs include healthcare, criminal justice, child welfare, special education and productivity loss costs.
“We serve children from three to their 18th birthday and we see children within that age range that are victims,” Liles said.
Liles said one of the key indicators that a child may be a victim of sexual abuse is a change in their behavior. Isolation, not enjoying activities, change in grades and some children may exhibit over-sexualized behavior after being victims.
“It is really diverse where a child is developmentally and what they’ve actually experienced, and how supportive a family is factors into what behaviors are exhibited,” Liles said.
Liles said the school age range from 6-12 is the largest percentage of children they see. Liles also said a large percentage of children they serve are considered delayed disclosures.
“These are not kids that are abused and then an hour later they’re telling someone,” Liles said. “These are kids who wait days, weeks, months, or years before they say something.”
A scenario of a victim disclosing their trauma could be a victim telling a friend, and then the friend goes and tells their parents or a teacher.
“Sometimes something happens that triggers the disclosure like if the predator was someone who was present in the home or a friend of the family who frequently visited the home but is now gone, the child may feel safe to disclose,” Liles said. “The delayed disclosure is much more common than a more timely disclosure to a specific incident.”
At Helen’s Haven around 25 percent of the victims seen are males. Liles says they serve boys that are very young all the way up to adolescents.
Once a child and parent or caregiver begins services at Helen’s Haven they are usually given a trauma assessment that determines if a child’s experience has created a level of trauma that needs Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
“All staff and therapists are trained in TF-CBT and receive continual training in that,” Liles said.
Child and Family advocate Helen Harris says the TF-CBT is very trauma focused and also brings the parent or caregiver in.
“It is not just therapy for the child but we also do sessions with the parents or caregivers and teach the same techniques as the children for emotional regulations and relaxation skills,” said Harris. “We want the parent to be able to support the child as well when they are at home and also address parenting issues.”
Harris says the child goes through many modules of therapy learning many techniques and coping skills before doing a trauma narrative where a child opens up about the experience and processes it. Following the trauma narrative, if appropriate, they will set up a joint session with a parent or caregiver where the child shares the trauma. With young children Helen’s Haven may use play therapy as a way for a child to work through trauma.
Harris said the number of sessions a child needs varies. Due to family circumstances or other factors, a child could need 18-20 sessions or more.
Liles said for those who have not ever received therapy for their childhood trauma could lead to the inability of forming trusting relationships, addictions, and inability of adapting socially across the board in adulthood.
She also says that child sexual abuse victims can repeat the cycle with their children becoming victims as well.
“A lot of the parents that we work with were victimized and it’s not an uncommon thing for us to see the pattern repeat itself,” Liles said.
On March 30 the Helen’s Haven Children’s Advocacy Center will be doing a 5K run/walk. Registration is $25 and you can register online at www.raceentry.com or call 369-7777 for more information.