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Conference to discuss ways to aid child abuse workers

Public invited to fundraiser

April 11, 2012
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there are many people working on the front lines in the battle to reduce the number of children who suffer at the hands of others. During the last week of the month, several experts will get together in Paoli and present ideas and strategies to help those who work regularly with child abuse victims and their families.

The event, to be held at the Orange County Community Center on April 26 and 27, will be aimed at professional child abuse advocates, therapists, investigators and others in the field. But on Thursday evening, April 26, the public is encouraged to attend a fundraiser at the center, sponsored by the Southwestern Indiana's Child Advocacy Center Coalition (SWICACC), to raise funds that will be used for training professionals involved in the work of child abuse investigation and prevention and equipping facilities needed for children to be interviewed in a child-friendly environment that will not add to the trauma of any abuse they may have already experienced.

The two-day conference will include four well-known experts on child abuse:

•Dr. Antoinette Laskey is a forensic pediatrician at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Riley Hospital for Children and Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. She specializes in research on child abuse and child fatalities.

•Sonia Leerkamp served for almost 30 years as a prosecutor, making child abuse prosecution her priority. As faculty for the Child First Indiana Coalition, she has trained professionals in the investigative and legal aspects of child abuse.

•Ed Pereira is a licensed clinical social worker with 34 years of clinical experience, specializing in family violence for 30 years, working with victims of child abuse, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, adults who have abused children and adolescent sexual offenders.

•Victor Vieth, who serves as the executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center, a state-of-the-art training complex located on the campus of Winona State University in Minnesota that provides intensive instruction for undergraduate students and current professionals in the field on how to better recognize, react and respond to children who are being abused.

"This is a coalition of seven counties," Cheryl Hillenburg, Crawford County prosecutor, said. "And this will be an important conference, mainly for professionals. But our fundraiser on Thursday evening (April 26) is open to everyone, and we hope to have a large turnout. There will be a great dinner and a silent auction. And Victor Vieth will be the keynote speaker.

"We've put a lot of time into this and hope that the community will come and support what we are doing. We want to get people involved, to think about child abuse. I helped start Comfort House (a child advocacy center now in Corydon), and we've worked on this issue for several years. We know, for instance, that a good interview of victims is paramount. We know not to traumatize a child any more than necessary.

"Here, in Crawford County, we have a team made up of the prosecutor and law enforcement officers. We have a room set up in Milltown to do forensic interviews of victims. In Perry and Spencer counties, there's an interview room at the hospitals. Orange County uses mobile equipment.

"Sexual abuse happens mostly by someone the victim and their family knows," she continued. "Sometimes it's even family members or neighbors. They work to build up trust — groom them — then abuse occurs. And of course, there are other kinds of abuse, such as physical abuse and neglect."

In 2010, 695,000 children were victims of child abuse in the United States. More than 1,500 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. According to the National Children's Alliance, the majority of child abuse cases stemmed from situations and conditions that can be prevented when community programs and systems are engaged and supported.

"It's always been my passion to help those who have been victimized," Hillenburg said. "But we all need to be vigilant. Every person is required to report abuse — everyone — not just the kid or their family. Usually, someone saw something or sensed something doesn't feel right. We often ignore it, and someone gets hurt. It's easy to recognize something you're not comfortable with, but we have to follow through and report it."

April first became National Child Abuse Prevention Month when it was declared by a presidential proclamation in 1983. The National Children's Alliance states that "April is a time to look back, to acknowledge the children who have suffered and the losses sustained throughout our communities because of that suffering. And April is a time to look forward, to a time when children no longer have to live in fear."

The Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition fund-raiser on April 26 will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will be held at the Orange County Community Center at 1075 N. Sandy Hook Road in Paoli. Tickets are $25 per person or $225 per table of eight and include a catered dinner and keynote speech. Make checks payable to Hoosier Hills PACT and mail to Crawford County Prosecutor's Office, Attention: Cheryl Hillenburg, P.O. Box 40, English, IN 47118.

For more information, call the Crawford County Prosecutor's Office at 338-3522.

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