Wednesday, April 16, 2014 · 11:50 p.m.

It doesn't cost anything to be an angel for a child victim of physical, sexual abuse

Children's Advocacy Center streamlines help for victims

Officials with the Children's Advocacy Center work with children and families who are affected by sexual or physical abuse. (Photo: Staff)

There are countless causes to give to during the holiday season, but leaders with the Children's Advocacy Center of Hamilton County are hoping that area residents will become angels for some of the area's most defenseless victims. 

Through a project called 5,000 Angels, officials with the advocacy center are collecting words of encouragement for children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse.

They aren't asking for money, names or addresses—just a message of support for children who often feel confused and alone.

"A lot of times, post-traumatic stress disorder and issues that kids are dealing with are exacerbated because there is a wall that is put up around them for self-preservation and confidentially," said Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson, who is also on the board of the advocacy center. 

Through 5,000 Angels, area residents can take a minute to send children who have been victims of abuse a message of hope. (Photo: Staff)

More than 50 people have left messages, which leaders at the advocacy center are printing out, framing and putting on a wall at the facility for children to read. 

Officials are also considering printing the messages for other formats—maybe a book to flip through or making copies for children to take home.

About the CAC
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County Inc. was established as a private, nonprofit agency in 1991. Since then, the center's employees have served 8,999 children. 

By the numbers 

In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Children's Advocacy Center of Hamilton County helped hundreds of area residents. 

—612: Children served

—564: Forensic interviews conducted

—63: Child therapy sessions

—394: Therapy sessions for parents/guardians 

—56: Medical examinations provided 

—399: Nonoffending families assisted through family advocate program

—5,073: Educated about child abuse

Source: Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, officials helped 612 child victims, and officials said that it was more than in prior years. They hope that it isn't because there are more victims but because more people are reporting the crimes.

Cathy Eldahan, external affairs coordinator with the center, said that many people don't know that Tennessee law requires any adult who suspects child abuse to report it via a state hotline. The number for that hotline is 1-877-54-ABUSE. 

Before the advocacy center formed in Hamilton County, all the authorities involved in responding to a child abuse situation—such as police, lawyers, child services officials, doctors, counselors—didn't communicate well. 

And that disconnect meant that the child victim often had to repeat the traumatic story about the abuse many times. 

Having an advocacy center helps eliminate those problems, officials said. 

And the services are mostly free to families whose children have been victims of abuse. 

About 60 percent of the center's funding comes from government grants. The other 40 percent comes from fundraising.

Over the past weekend, Mainx24's Adult Big Wheel Competition event raised money for the center, officials said. 

Eldahan said that child abuse costs Hamilton County almost $4 million a year. 

"We are all affected by it," she said.

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