This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore who she has met along the way.
Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center (TCCAC), a collaborative effort of several Talbot County agencies to provide services to Talbot County children and families victimized by sexual abuse, was recently re-accredited by the National Children’s Alliance. The Center was fully accredited initially in 2007, with re-accreditation again in 2012. Its most recent re-accreditation this spring is significant as the Center seeks to transform and grow its medical program.
Diane Shaffer, LCSW-C, Assistant Director, Child Welfare and Workforce Support at the Talbot County Department of Social Services, comments, “While we received no recommendations for improvement at our recent accreditation, which was a great accomplishment, we continuously strive to incorporate new ideas and expand current programs to better serve our community. In regard to our medical program, we want to build upon our talented pool of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurses, who have special training to conduct sexual assault forensic exams, as well as to build stability with our medical director.”
Talbot County Department of Social Services partnered with the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton to develop the Regional Medical Program for child sexual abuse victims. Medical services necessary for child sexual abuse victims were not available in the Mid-Shore region in 2002 (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne, and Talbot counties). Families and children often had to travel to Baltimore or Washington, D.C. Today, the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton provides the physical space for the Children’s Advocacy Center, infrastructure support to the Mid-Shore Medical Program, including security, partnership through the Nurse Manager of the birthing center, services of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Coordinator and support from Pediatrics. Regional service delivery is choreographed to the needs of the victim and within the best practice standards for the investigation. From 2002 to 2016, 516 children, who have been sexually abused, have received forensic medical examinations through the Mid-Shore Medical Program.
The Center is currently looking to partner with pediatric providers to expand its Medical Program services to even better support child victims of sexual assault and their families. In turn, the TCCAC can serve as a resource to the region’s pediatricians on child victim issues, helping physicians to meet the medical, emotional and social needs around this issue.
In addition to the Talbot County Department of Social Services and the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton, pediatricians and nurses, a number of other agencies are represented on the multi-disciplinary team, which assists the Center in providing services to the victims and their families on the Mid Shore. These partners include the State’s Attorney’s Office, a mental health therapist, the Talbot County Sheriff’s Department, the Maryland State Police, the Easton Police Department, and the St. Michael’s Police Department. Because of the Center’s consistent re-accreditation by the Maryland Children’s Alliance (MCA), MCA is funding four professionals from the TCCAC’s multidisciplinary team to attend the annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas, Texas, this summer to learn the best practices in the areas of prosecution, law enforcement, and forensic interviewing.
According to Diane, “Medical providers are a keystone of the Children’s Advocacy Center response to victims of child sexual abuse. By utilizing medical knowledge and interpersonal skills, a medical professional reduces the trauma for child victims and their families and supports hope and healing. The Medical Advocate is a voice for the child, when silence is often demanded by the perpetrator. It is a special gift to a child and family in a time of confusion and pain.”
In addition, the foundation of the TCCAC’s commitment to child victims relies upon the day-to-day coordinated service delivery for all victims who require wrap-around service delivery for stabilization within families subjected to the trauma of abuse. By the nature of the abuse, victims and their non-offending caregivers are isolated from their families and communities. This sense of isolation is deepened by the rural nature of the Mid Shore that further impairs victims and their caregivers from seeking and receiving the support necessary to heal and to work through the judicial system to assure that offenders are identified and prosecuted. The TCCAC Family Advocate often becomes the lifeline for victims and their caregivers with community resources including medical, mental health and legal. The Family Advocate works in conjunction with the Victim Advocate in the State’s Attorney’s Office when there is court action against the offender. The child victim and family have two areas of support who speak with one voice.
Cindy, a grandmother who recently used the TCCAC when the family discovered that another family member was abusing her grandson, comments, “We had no idea that the abuse was happening to my 10-year old grandson. He shared it with friends at school and we were confronted with the issue.” She adds, “We are so grateful he was able to share it with someone and that the truth came out and wasn’t buried inside him to cause problems in his future. The staff helped us deal with how to handle the situation and our anger as a family with what had happened.”
The TCCAC has connected the grandson with counseling services and counseling has also been offered to family members to help them start getting past all of this. According to the family, it has provided hope in a time of real crisis.
For new TCCAC Coordinator Lauren Krasko who recently joined the Center, the opportunities to heal children and families who have been victimized by child sexual abuse, are challenging but rewarding at the same time. Lauren, who has a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Maryland and a Master’s of Social Work degree from Salisbury University comments, “My previous work experience in child welfare at Talbot County Department of Social Services and five years of experience working with juvenile offenders in Kent County and Caroline County, and long history of participation on high performing teams has prepared me to meet the demands of the job.”
She adds, “I am excited to work for an organization that advances the well-being of children in our community and to have the opportunity to collaborate with community partners in order to ensure our children receive the services necessary to travel from victim to survivor. I am excited to build upon an already strong foundation and find new and creative ways to advance the mission of the TCCAC.”
Talbot Community Connections (TCC), a 14-member volunteer nonprofit board, was formed to raise funds to enhance the Talbot County Department of Social Services’ capacity to respond directly to problems of safety and well-being of county citizens. The funds raised by TCC help abused children through TCCAC, families in crisis, the unemployed and working poor, and disabled and frail elderly. In 2017, TCC provided $5,900 to the TCCAC. In addition to grant funds, the Center operates on donated funds from the community. The generous contribution of space and facility infrastructure from Shore Health System is essential to keeping the Center’s doors open. To donate to Talbot Community Connections for the Children’s Advocacy Center, visit talbotcommunityconnections.org.