By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On April 8, the James M. Barrie Center for Children held its annual Pinwheel Ceremony during which staff presented the center’s annual report to the community.
The Barrie Center works collaboratively with law enforcement to investigate instances of child abuse. The staff provides forensic interviews, evaluations and therapy for children who have disclosed sexual or physical abuse. The center also provides support and advocacy to families during the investigation. The center often spreads information about preventing child abuse and mandatory reporting.
Blue pinwheels decorated the Etowah County Courthouse lawn; one was placed for each child the Barrie Center interviewed during investigations for physical or sexual abuse. For 2018, 353 pinwheels were displayed. Etowah County was sixth in the number of interviews performed. About 73 percent of the interviews involved allegations of sexual abuse. Of the 353 interviews, 122 cases resulted in court subpoenas and about 100 others were referred for counseling or extended evaluation.
“This year was a year where we’ve seen the largest increase, about 29 percent increase, in the number of children we serve,” said Barrie Center Executive Director Patricia Falcon.
Falcon shared that nationally one out of 10 children will be sexually assaulted in some way before their 18th birthday
“We’ve got to do a great job making sure that children have a place to come to talk about the things that have happened to them and someone that will believe them and someone that will work with them to help them through the process,” she said.
A move to a bigger facility in the past year has provided the Barrie Center with the opportunity to expand its services, offering more therapy, including group therapy. The center has also paired with the YMCA of Coosa Valley to provide restorative yoga.
“I think that’s the largest number that we’ve had in the nine years I’ve worked at the Barrie Center,” said Falcon. “It’s quite a surprise when we look at those numbers and see that we had 100 more interviews this past year than we did in the previous year.”
During proclamations for Child Abuse Prevention Month held at the Gadsden City Council meeting on April 1, Family Success Center Executive Director Tammy Jackson outlined the center’s Safe and Successful program, which helps schools in the area comply with Erin’s Law. Erin’s Law states that public schools must provide age-appropriate education about physical and sexual abuse so that children can recognize abuse if it is happening to them or someone they know.
“We believe we are making a difference,” said Jackson. “As we have more people report, I’m hoping it’s not because there is more child abuse but because more of them know what to do if it’s happening to them.”
Jackson reported that last year Safe and Successful Program leader Deana Thacker saw more than 9,000 students in the three school systems in Etowah County. As of March of this year, Thacker has seen about 7,100 students.