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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


April Child Abuse Awareness Month

(April 30, 2015) As part of its efforts during Child Abuse Awareness Month, the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury is driving home the message to residents in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties that silence is never the right answer when it comes to potential instances of child abuse.
Executive Director Michele Hughes said there are plenty of tools to assist victims of child abuse, starting with child advocacy centers such as Cricket Center in Berlin, which serves all of Worcester County.
“A child advocacy center is sort of an agreement among a very specific group of people who come to together to make a decision that they’re going to treat child abuse in a way that means that children are heard, they’re believed and they’re treated,” Hughes said.
“That’s what they do at the Cricket Center. The law enforcement and the child protective services do the investigations, and they do it in a way which is very sensitive to how children react to those things. That’s why you have a child advocacy center, because it’s not frightening to children.”
Before the Cricket Center was established, victims of child abuse in the county were required to tell and retell stories of their abuse several times, often at a number of different and potentially frightening locations.
“Usually the buildings were things like police departments and departments of social services – very frightening places to children,” Hughes said. “The Cricket Center is very welcoming to a child.”
At the center, specially trained forensic interviewers speak with the child, while law enforcement view the testimony in an adjacent room through a video monitoring system.
The center also houses the entire Worcester County Child Protective Services team and receives support from Atlantic General Hospital, social workers, the Maryland State Police, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department and the Life Crisis Center, where staffer Cindy Cook doubles as a family advocate.
“She works with the nonoffending parent and the other siblings to try to make sure that they know what’s happening is the case goes to court,” Hughes said. “It helps the family to figure out how they’re going to deal with this.”
Hughes said child sexual abuse is at near-epidemic levels in the lower Eastern Shore counties, witch Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset having the three highest rates in the state.
“Part of that is good reporting,” Hughes said. “We are very proud to say that these cases get reported down here. The school system does an excellent job of reporting, and that doesn’t happen elsewhere.
“A much larger percentage of these reports come from the school system here than anywhere else in the state, and that’s a good thing,” Hughes continued. “If it doesn’t get reported children don’t get treated and these guys don’t get off the street who perpetrate these things.”
Hughes underscored the importance of therapeutic treatment in cases of child abuse. The Life Crisis Center, for example, staffs seven trauma-trained therapists, including four child therapists.
“If you look at the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville they will tell you that is the most important piece of being a child advocacy center is the treatment,” she said. “It is critical. You don’t have a child advocacy center if you don’t have the therapy piece. If children are not treated it affects their entire life.”
Trauma therapists, Hughes said, teach a victim how to cope with instances of abuse.
“This happened to you. I can’t make you forget it, but what I can do is help you to recognize when these feelings are coming and how to deal with them,” she said.
Hughes also praised the Worcester County prosecutorial team.
“[State’s Attorney] Beau Oglesby is serious about this,” she said. “He’s serious about prosecuting child abuse cases and that trickles down through the staff. Also he’s got Abby Marsh there as the deputy, and Abby famously tried the Sarah Foxwell case in Wicomico County.
“He’s got people that are really knowledgeable on staff, and he’s very serious about making certain that they get these guys off the street,” Hughes continued. “You can be proud of the job that they do in Worcester County.”
If someone suspects a child may be a victim of abuse, Hughes urged that person to make a call to the department of social service’s child protective services office in Snow Hill at 410-677-6800 or 410-641-0097, or contact local law enforcement, or the Life Crisis Center.
“Whether you call DSS or law enforcement, or even if you call us, we’re going to get you hooked up with the services the way you need to,” Hughes said. “When you tell the department of social services that happened to you, you are also telling law enforcement because they work as a team so the child doesn’t have to be interviewed multiple times.”
That team approach also includes prosecutors, who used the information to make an informed decision regarding additional legal action.
“If you suspect something, report it. It is critical” Hughes said. “If nothing happened, nobody is going to be punished. The folks at the child advocacy center, they’re not going to hound somebody who didn’t do something wrong. They have specialized training that makes them better at this than anybody. If you think something is happening, err on the side of caution.
“I don’t think that there’s anything more important than protecting our children, and if people understand that protecting children means to believe them then I think that we can have a healthier community,” Hughes said.
For more information call 410-749-HELP or visit