Child Protect, Citizen of the Year — Philanthropy
By Darlene Hutchinson Biehl and Helen Herndon
Photography by Maria Wiggins
Pictured Above: Back Row: Staff members Laurel Teel, Cammie Blackmon, Junior Board Member Suzanna Wasserman, staff members Kristin Byrd and Emily Hutcheson. Front Row: Willow the therapy dog, staffer Tamara Martin and Executive Director Jannah Bailey
It’s a tough subject to think about. But the trauma of abuse is even worse for a child to experience. Across central Alabama, children suffer everyday from both sexual and physical abuse at the hands of those they love and trust. Even after these crimes are reported, the young victims must face the painful process of telling their stories, learn to cope with the long-term effects, and navigate the criminal justice process. The goal of the staff of Child Protect is to minimize the trauma a victim endures. Recognized as a 501(c)3 non profit organization, the agency does not charge for its services.
Executive Director, Jannah Bailey points out that the agency is not duplicating any services offered by other agencies. At Child Protect, a specially trained forensic interviewer talks to the child to learn about the incident(s). A video is created to reduce the number of officials to to whom the victim must repeat the awful events, thus reducing the agony created by retelling the incident time and again throughout the legal process.
The evidence gathered during the forensic interview is then turned over to prosecutors. Going a step further, Child Protect also provides advocacy and support for the child and family throughout the criminal justice process. As a matter of fact, most Child Protect employees agree that its counseling service is one of the most integral aspects of the agency.
Emily Hutcheson, a Forensic Interviewer and Counselor points out that follow-up counseling is extremely important to the whole process. “Abuse affects children the rest of their lives. Children of abuse are more likely to offend themselves if they do not get help to heal.” And Ms. Bailey adds, “Eighty percent of boys seventy-five percent of girls, when there was no intervention, end up in very negative behaviors.”
Cammie Blackmon, Family Advocate and Office Manager is the friendly face that greets the victims as they first walk through the doors and she is by there side throughout the process. She too stresses the importance of counseling, “The ability the children have to get free counseling — the counseling they need — means that they are more likely to be productive citizens one day.”
“That’s why having an agency like this within your own community is so important,” continues Ms. Blackmon as she explains they are in the process of opening satellite offices in Prattville and Wetumpka. “Family’s are more than likely to come for the follow-up they need if they have a center nearby.”
Employees of Child Protect answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Bailey points out the calls involve “girls and boys from every ZIP code. Abuse knows no boundaries, race, religion, or socioeconomic make-up.”
According to Kristin Byrd, Forensic Interviewer and Counselor and employee for three years, abuse happens more than we realize. That makes Child Protect an invaluable resource for the community — but one you also hope you never have to use.
Alabama congressman Bud Cramer had been a prosecutor and saw first hand the traumatization of children having to repeatedly tell their stories. He recognized the need for a child advocacy center and in 1984 introduced the concept and a year later the first facility of its kind was established in Huntsville. The next year the Alabama Legislature passed legislation designating the Huntsville location a pilot program. Federal grants helped fund the facility and eventually a network of children’s advocacy centers was created, as Alabama led the nation in the development of these programs. Ms. Bailey’s husband was on Child Protect’s founding board in 1989 and Jannah joined as Executive Director in 2001.
In December four years later Child Protect was able to purchase the property adjacent to their building on South Perry. Future plans include a playground and more offices for multidisciplinary team members.
Suzannah Wasserman, Junior Board Vice President, sings the praises of Child Protect and its employees. “These people are so loving. I could not imagine going through the kind of trauma these kids do and then having to talk to the police or lawyers. Instead, they are able to talk to people like Kristin and Jannah who live their lives for this agency and the children it represents.”
Ms. Bailey admits to waking up and asking God, “Is this where I’m supposed to be?” The answer is, “Yes.” Growing up herself with some domestic violence and child abuse gives her a special empathy for its victims. She admits that the job is not always easy and that at times often it’s necessary to compartmentalize; but at the same she time confesses that some incidents just haunt her as cases affect her differently.
“On the lowest days when we question if we are really making a difference, that’s when a child sends an email that says I graduated from high school or a family says they’ve never been treated so nicely. The other thing that drives me is the staff. They come in so selflessly not knowing what they are going to face, whether at 8 a.m. or 2 a.m. inquiring, ‘How can we serve?’ ”
Often, people question Ms. Bailey about how she can do what she does. Ms. Bailey asks, “How can I not?”