At Ray of Hope Advocacy Center, we hear a lot of tough questions with complicated, deep answers or, unfortunately, no easy answer. Our agency has been working hard this year to ensure that the community understands our organization and the children we serve. Child abuse is a complex issue and we’ve found that there are some common questions that people have about how we help kids and families impacted by trauma and abuse.
Is child abuse on the rise locally?
This is one of the harder questions we are asked. The latest data from OKDHS does show child abuse on the rise in Oklahoma and locally. We also know our services are needed now more than ever. Ray of Hope has seen a 54 percent increase in children served this year compared to last year (318 children in 2016 vs. 207 in 2015) and 300 percent increase in medical exams performed.
We believe that as our community becomes more aware of the signs of abuse and becomes empowered to respond and report, allegations of abuse will go up. The need for Ray of Hope’s services will increase. But, ultimately, children will be brought out of the helpless darkness of child abuse and into a safer, more stable environment.
So, why are child abuse numbers on the rise?
Again, we always hope more abuse is being reported rather than more abuse is actually occurring. There are circumstances that can become risk factors for abuse, like a decline in state resources for social supports, a rise in substance abuse and poor educational outcomes. While none of these factors cause abuse, they can cause added stress and instability in the home.
What types of child abuse does Ray of Hope see most often?
While Ray of Hope does not respond to every child abuse or neglect case in our community, we do respond to the most serious cases. Child sexual abuse victims represent more than half of the children we help and is the largest sector we serve. Children who have suffered physical abuse, witness to violence, neglect and witness to drug activity are also often seen at Ray of Hope.
What services are provided at Ray of Hope?
Following allegations of child abuse, Ray of Hope Advocacy Center’s on-site services include forensic interviews, forensic medical exams, multi-disciplinary team coordination, court preparation, community education and victim and child advocacy. We also refer children and families to outside agencies for mental health and other support services. We know that often the children that we see at Ray of Hope benefit from the amazing services that other area nonprofits can provide. When children don’t have access to adequate food and nutrition, we may refer them to Agape or Mary Martha Outreach. If families need after school support and mentoring, we might connect them with the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers and Big Sisters or the Mutual Girls Club.
How are children referred to Ray of Hope?
Children are referred to Ray of Hope from local law enforcement and child protective services agencies following a child abuse disclosure or allegations of abuse. Any concerns of child abuse need to be reported to law enforcement or the OKDHS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.
What is the age range of children served at Ray of Hope?
Ray of Hope serves children from birth to 18 years old.
What is a forensic interview?
A forensic interview is a legally sound, developmentally appropriate way to elicit a child’s statement about a abuse or neglect allegations. A forensic interview is conducted at a child advocacy center, like Ray of Hope, by a trained specialist and video-recorded to reduce the need for further interviews. The entire process focuses on obtaining an objective statement necessary for child abuse prosecution while minimizing any additional trauma to the child victim.
What service area does Ray of Hope cover?
Ray of Hope’s primary service area includes Washington, Nowata and Osage Counties. We do serve children in southeast Kansas and other nearby areas as needed depending on what is in the best interest of the child and investigation.
What is Ray of Hope’s future?
We will always remain true to our mission and respond to the outcry of child abuse. But we know to see a true decline in child abuse, more and better prevention and treatment services need to be provided to break the cycle of abuse. We have future plans to partner with an existing mental health agency and embed a trained, trauma-focused counselor on-site to remove barriers for abuse victims seeking treatment. We also are working to train community members, educators and child-serving organizations on child abuse prevention and response best practices. Physical space is our biggest constraint to fully launching these programs, but we hope to raise enough funds through our Hope Floats campaign that we are able to renovate and move into our new facility in 2017.
If you have questions that we’ve missed, give us a call. We’d love to personally answer your questions or schedule a tour of our facility.