After a challenging year, the Huntington County Child Advocacy Center – more often referred to as McKenzie’s Hope – remains focused on its mission to reduce trauma, seek justice and bring hope to children in the Huntington community who experience abuse or neglect.
Financial stress brought on by the pandemic and fewer eyes on children in general as families spent more time at home placed some children at higher-than-normal risk.
According to Katie Schilling, executive director for McKenzie’s Hope, this is an unfortunate reality of a public health emergency – but one they have worked to overcome.
“This past year has served to reaffirm the need for in-person contact for both the child victim as well as their non-offending caregivers,” Schilling said. “We have learned to be much more flexible in the face of constant changes during the COVID-19 crisis.”
On Thursday, April 1, Huntington Mayor Richard Strick signed a proclamation raising awareness and declaring April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Huntington.
Indiana has mandatory reporting laws requiring anyone who observes or suspects child abuse or neglect to make a report. Schilling said there are several “red flags” that may indicate a child needs help, including unexplained injuries, abrupt changes in behavior or the child fearing a certain person or place.
“If you are aware or even suspect child abuse, report it. You may be the only voice that child has,” Schilling said.
The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is (800) 800-5556.
The number is available at all times, including weekends and holidays. A caller’s identity is protected by law, and the caller may choose to remain anonymous. The Indiana Department of Child Services encourages individuals to provide contact information to allow a case manager to follow up with additional questions if needed.
McKenzie’s Hope works closely with law enforcement and the local prosecutor’s and DCS offices to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, providing a child-friendly environment where a child can be interviewed by a trained forensic investigator. The organization also provides referrals to area agencies that specialize in helping children and families in crisis.
Open conversations with children about body safety – for example, teaching them the correct anatomical names for body parts – can help prevent abuse or encourage a child to speak up, Schilling said.
“Talk with your child about appropriate touching of their body,” she said. “Empower a child to say ‘no’ to something that makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Visit mckenzieshope.org to learn more, make a donation or find ways to get involved.