Local group stepping up anti-abuse efforts

Amber Hirschy, executive director for McKenzie’s Hope in Huntington, stands in front of one of the trees of hearts at the facility on Tuesday, April 20.
Amber Hirschy, executive director for McKenzie’s Hope in Huntington, stands in front of one of the trees of hearts at the facility on Tuesday, April 20. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Originally published April 26, 2010.

In 1983, Congress declared April as "Child Abuse Prevention Month," and local child advocacy organizations have dedicated themselves to increasing awareness about the issue and offering support to those effected by abuse or neglect.

McKenzie's Hope, also known as the Huntington County Child Advocacy Center, has taken steps to increase awareness about this social issue and help prevent child abuse events from occurring.

"Our goal is to not have to be here," says Amber Hirschy, executive director of McKenzie's Hope.

The organization has partnered with the Council Against Domestic Violence to sponsor three events to support the work of both offices.

Businesses around the community have been selling paper trees and hearts to increase awareness. In addition, the Spring Family Festival at Hier's Park last Saturday, April 24, and an After Hours for the Chamber of Commerce at McKenzie's Hope tomorrow, Tuesday, April 27, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. are designed to increase familiarity with the resources both organizations provide.

McKenzie's Hope provides a comfortable atmosphere for possible victims of child abuse to be interviewed by local authorities. This presents a distinct change from the past process, where a child would have to travel to several different local offices, usually in stressful environments, and be interviewed multiple times.

Instead, a specially-trained interviewer talks to the child from a private room, and investigators from all offices and the child's parents, if not suspects, are able to watch and listen to the interview via a closed-circuit TV in an adjacent conference room. Each interview is recorded on DVD to be used as reference in preparing for trial.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive for the situation, Hirschy says.

Hirschy says a teen, who had been victimized as a child, had to deal with the old system of going from office to office, which she says was traumatic. That same teen then had to be interviewed in a separate case at McKenzie's Hope, which the teen said was much more relaxed.

"It has helped kids be able to open up and talk about what has happened in their lives," Hirschy says.

Since McKenzie's Hope opened its doors in January 2006, it has helped process over 530 abuse cases. Six law enforcement or social service offices currently partner with the facility, including the Huntington County Prosecutor's Office, Huntington Police Department, Huntington County Sheriff's Department, Department of Child Services, The Huntington Bowen Center and The Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center.

The Administration for Children and Families cites 66,690 cases of child abuse or neglect were reported among Indiana's 1.6 million youth in 2008, having risen from just over 42,000 the year before.

In light of the potential for abuse, Hirschy offers tips for preventing abuse.

• Be a nurturing parent.

• Help a friend, neighbor or relative care for children.

• Help yourself by taking time to relax so you won't take stress out on your children.

• Get involved with organization working to prevent child abuse.

• Promote child abuse awareness programs in schools.

• Monitor your child's TV, Internet and video game activity.

• Support a local organization working to improve parenting skills.

• Know what your child is doing.

• Report suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Child Services at 1-800-800-5556.

McKenzie's Hope, located at 1175 Etna Ave. in Huntington can also be supported financially or through donations of copy paper, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, postage stamps, letter-size envelopes, two-pocket folders, black permanent markers, 13-gallon trash bags, letter-size folders and gift certificates to buy supplies and toys as needed.

For more information on McKenzie's Hope, or to find out how to help with the ongoing battle against child abuse, call the office at 356-5730, e-mail mckenzieshope@yahoo.com or visit the website at www.mckenzieshope.org.

Caption: Amber Hirschy, executive director for McKenzie’s Hope in Huntington, stands in front of one of the trees of hearts at the facility on Tuesday, April 20. Each child abuse victim who is interviewed at McKenzie’s Hope is able to decorate his or her own heart for placement on the wall.