Health Team

Wake group aims at helping children, families in abuse situations

SAFEchild opened the SAFEchild Advocacy Center on Kidd Road in Raleigh last year to serve as a safe haven for young victims.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A Raleigh organization is making it its mission to protect child victims of physical or sexual abuse and to help their families.
SAFEchild opened the SAFEchild Advocacy Center on Kidd Road in Raleigh last year to serve as a safe haven for young victims.

On the outside, it looks like any other home, but inside, victims receive all of the treatment and assistance they need after being abused.

In one room, for example, a child can talk with a child abuse specialist while the conversation is being recorded. In another, a social worker, detective or a physician can listen to the conversation.

That way, the child only has to go through the process of sharing what happened to him or her only once.

"They're not having to retell their story over and over again and relive the trauma," said Cristin DeRonja, the center's director, said.

A pediatrician can also provide a full physical exam, identify medical needs and refer the child for treatment, counseling or therapy.

If warranted, legal action can also be taken there.

The rest of the group's focus is on the family as a whole. It offers numerous child abuse prevention programs, services and classes aimed at educating parents and families.

In nearly 90 percent of cases, children are abused at the hands of someone they know very well, often a parent.

"It's bigger than anyone wants to imagine that it is," DeRonja said. "We also know that it's underreported."

The group works closely with local law enforcement, hospital emergency room physicians, child protective services and the Wake County District Attorney's Office to identify and refer children to the center.

It also encourages people in the community – including neighbors, teachers caregivers and parents – to recognize signs that abuse is occurring and to report it so it can be investigated.

Pediatrician Dr. Betty Whitman understands how easily physical abuse can occur as an attempt at discipline.

"They're trying to mold that child sometimes, but they're not going about it the right way or they have problems with anger management or with violence."

The best outcome for the child is to remove the threat of abuse and restore the family.

"(We want to) help them move along the continuum of a healthy, happy environment for their children," DeRonja said.


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