The Shelby County Advocacy Center, Inc., a private nonprofit agency, opened in 1993 in a building owned by the Shelby County Board of Education. They graciously rented the space at $1.00 per month. The building was old and needed many repairs. With a dream, a commitment, and an inter-agency agreement signed, 121 forensic interviews were scheduled during the first year. There was only one full-time employee and interviews were conducted by the Department of Human Resources. Now, Owens House CAC staff conduct all forensic (fact-finding) interviews with children. In 2011, 200 such interviews were conducted.
In 1997 we moved into a new facility and renamed it Owens House CAC in honor of the District Attorney Robert E. Owens, Jr. who initiated the project. The staff grew to three full-time employees; parenting classes were added, and in 1998 a special prosecutor was hired to work on the child abuse cases. Shelby County’s Multi-disciplinary team consists of representatives from Owens House CAC, District Attorneys Office, 11 Law Enforcement Agencies, Department of Human Resources, Board of Education, CHIPS Medical Specialist, Health Department, and the Juvenile Probation Office. Our team has grown from 6 to over 50 professionals. In 2011, 270 child abuse cases were reviewed by the Multidisciplinary Team.
Our facility is a house, much like any other house, with three offices where bedrooms would have been. Children and their non-offending family members wait in the living-room area while the family advocate works in the dining area. The atmosphere at Owens House CAC is child-friendly and safe. We strive to give children and families a haven where they can come for healing and understanding. During times of crisis, these families long for privacy and need calm, understanding professionals to listen to them.
During the 2011-2012 school year, Owens House CAC provided safety and prevention programs to more than 7000 children in the county’s elementary schools. Also in FY 2011, three 10-week sessions of parenting classes were held. A special children’s group, Heroes Great and Small, and a teen support group, SURVIVORS, was added in 2009 and continues today. Parents/caregivers of HEROES and SURVIVORS meet for their own support at the same time. Individual counseling sessions remain the norm at Owens House CAC as does family advocacy and support. In 2011, over 1000 individual counseling sessions were scheduled and almost 600 family support sessions were provided.
Owens House CAC serves victims from the first interview throughout the disposition of the case. The length of time does not affect the quality of care. Children often resolve difficulties associated with abuse, only to have them resurface at later times in their lives (such as puberty, the dating years, marriage, and the birth of a child). Owens House CAC offers all of our services free of charge and clients can return to Owens House CAC in the future if or when they need us. Owens House CAC serves all child victims regardless of race, sex, creed, or religion. We are culturally diverse and sensitive to cultural issues.
Most businesses delight when their service is in demand. We do not! We know that, as our business increases, there are more and more children being hurt. But, we also know that more children feel empowered to disclose abuse because they know that services are available to help them. Child abuse is devastating, not only to the child victim, but to the entire family structure. Trust is lost and security is often compromised. Families deserve the best, most timely services and we will continue to provide such services to all victims and family members who need them.
The mission of Owens House CAC is to protect the children of Shelby County.
This is accomplished by:
- Providing a warm, non-threatening, multi-disciplinary team approach to the problems of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse.
- Providing a special place where abused children and their non-offending family members are served by caring professionals in forensic interviews, evaluations, and/or mental health therapy.
- Providing school-based child abuse prevention and identification programs which teach body safety skills, the importance of empathy and feelings, awareness of each child’s support system, and conflict resolution skills.
- Providing community administrators and educators with follow-up abuse prevention material.
- Providing free parenting classes that teach communications skills, appropriate expression of feelings and empathy, understanding and making choices, empowering parents in valuable life skills for a healthier family experience.
- Providing free support groups and advocacy for non-offending caregivers to aid them in dealing with the trauma of abuse within the family.
- Promoting communication among and providing continuing educational opportunities for members of the multi-disciplinary team.
- Reviewing all child deaths in Shelby County to identify contributing factors in order to prevent future child deaths.