The Davis House Child Advocacy Center is adapting to new challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus — it expects a rise in cases of reported child abuse as pandemic continues.
Davis House is a non-profit organizations that serves Williamson, Hickman, Perry and Lewis Counties. It opened in September of 2000 to provide investigative and counseling services as well as advocacy for children who have experienced abuse, including forensic interviews that are used to help prosecutors in criminal trials.
In 2019 Davis House served 525 children, with 432 having been served since July 2019, and with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic impacting disrupting government bodies and businesses and isolating many people at home, the challenge of assisting children through the healing process just got a little more challenging.
Davis House Director of Victim Services Carolyn Evans is also currently serving as the Interim Executive Director after Marcus Stamps, who served in the position for nine years, took a new role at the state level in March just as the pandemic began disrupting nearly every aspect of normal life, including all aspects of the CAC's operation.
This decrease, Evans said, is not because more children are safe, but because many are now stuck a home, away from teachers and others who play vital roles identifying and reported suspected abuse.
In response to the pandemic the CAC staff of eight across three locations has begun working remotely where they can, but the uniquely challenging and important work of connecting with children who have experienced abuse requires trust that Evans said is not easy to facilitate with masks and social distancing.
Because of that Evans said that the CAC has spoken with families about their needs, offering online counseling services those those who want it, something that was made possible due to a change in the regulations on therapy earlier in the month, but have not fully committed to the Telehealth option as of right now.
“We wanted make sure that if our therapists did that that they were well-trained in telehealth because if we're going to do it we want to do it well,” Evans said. “So we held off because we were hoping that in May to be able to put a gradual plan back in place to be able to see those kids. With what we do, with trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and play therapy, it' hard todo that on a Zoom call."
Evans said that they are using Centers for Disease Control guidelines to keep the facility clean and are monitoring health and symptoms when they need to conduct an in-person interview with a child, making sure that they are able to provide a safe environment to be that support role as well as promoting health and sanitation due to the virus.
These interviews are done she said as close to six feet apart as possible and without a mask as to form that trusting connection needed to discuss deeply personal traumatic experiences that could help law enforcement as well as start the healing process for the child.
"Our team just personally felt like building that connection was so important and so therefore we went with sanitizing things as much as we could and keeping everybody six feet apart," Evans said. "So we're just trying to look logistically at our space, which is very small anyway, and trying to figure out how we can decrease how many people are in a room."
Evans said that most of their funding comes from annual fundraisers, grants and donations, with some money provided by DCS, and where she's really concerned about funding is six months down the road when the financial toll of the pandemic will continue to be felt throughout the economy.
“We were one of the fortunate ones [nonprofits] to get our biggest fundraiser in. We got it in on March 7 before everything started to shutdown,” Evans said. “But for us the impact of COVID has impact both forensic interviewing, victim advocacy services and counseling.”
April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Evans said that the critical service may become even more important throughout the summer and not the fall when Evans said CAC's normally see a rise in reported cases as schools come back into session, a rise that she said could be much higher than normal this year.
"If we have the uptick in cases like we expect then September in October are going to be of great concern," Evans said.
Davis House Child Advocacy Center is always accepting donations and support from monthly giving models to a wish list of needed supplies such as hand soap and most recently hand sanitizer, all of which help the center start the healing process for children who have experienced abuse.
More information about Davis House Child Advocacy Center is located in Franklin with additional locations in Hohenwald and Centerville. More information can be found at davishousecac.org.