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John McMillin: This month brings awareness of child abuse issues

John McMillin • Updated Apr 11, 2017 at 6:00 PM

April is a desirable means to focus attention on several issues that, quite frankly, need some attention. Through my work at United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland, I’ve learned that April is known as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month, among other things. All of these issues deserve our attention. However, I will try to remain focused on only one.

We consider ourselves lucky that we have partner agencies that have programs which work to bring awareness about these serious issues. Of course, they also work to eliminate these problems or, since there is little likelihood of that happening, to aid victims in any and every way possible.

Today, I want to look at Child Abuse Awareness Month. Two of our partner agencies, Wilson County Court Appointed Special Advocates and the 15th Judicial Child Advocacy Center, work with our most precious commodity, children, every day. Many times these dedicated individuals work with cases that will test your patience with humanity.

As you can imagine, both of these agencies have to work within the legal system to ensure the welfare of all their children. Both agencies will deal with physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, abandonment and emotional abuse.

Wilson County CASA is one of more than 900 CASA programs across the United States and internationally. Our county’s CASA program began as a steering committee in December 1987, secured a building in 1988 and began serving children in 1989. We are fortunate to have this program, which now serves more than 250 children every year and utilizes more than 60 volunteers and staff.

Basically, CASA provides trained volunteers who advocate in court for the stability and healthy development of abused and neglected children. Cases are referred to the CASA programs by the juvenile court judge, the Department of Children’s Services, and/or the Foster Care Review Board.

The 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center’s mission also aims to reduce the trauma of child abuse and facilitate the healing process. Since opening in 2008, the Center has provided services to more than 600 families. Sadly, when child abuse is discovered, many times the children have to tell their stories repeatedly as they progress through the legal system. The center offers a safe, comfortable haven where they can share their story once and move on to healing.

Both of these agencies work tirelessly with our Department of Children’s Services, the district attorney, Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown police departments, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and other nearby law enforcement agencies. The work is sadly very much needed. In both of these agencies, I have heard staff members say they work to put themselves out of business.

I believe I’m an optimist, but even I don’t see child abuse going away. Fortunately, we have agencies like these in Wilson County and similar agencies in our other counties that continue to fight for our children. Truth be told, only one month a year to recognize their valuable work seems at best, minimum.

UWWUC helps support nearly 40 local programs throughout Wilson County. For more information, visit givetouwwc.org.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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