By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Christi Webb is using it as a venue to call community members to action.
“We are trying to make the public aware of child abuse and what happens with these children,” said Webb, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center. “We also encourage people, if they expect any type of abuse with a child – whether it’s sexual, felony, physical – to report it.”
So far this year, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has worked 10 cases of reported child abuse and the Tupelo Police Department has handled three.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services defines physical abuse as any type of intentional contact that results in bodily harm like bruising, cuts, broken bones, burns or missing teeth.
Neglect, emotional and sexual abuse also should be reported to the Department of Human Services.
“We want reporting to be mandated,” Webb said. “Some people will suspect it but say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to call,’ but this is confidential. No one ever knows who reports and it beats the alternative.”
Forensic Investigator Nakimia Agnew added, “It’s better to have investigated and be wrong than to suspect abuse and not call because you aren’t sure and be right.”
Once child abuse is reported to DHS, law enforcement officials are contacted to investigate and they may then make a recommendation for the child to be interviewed and counseled by a children’s advocacy center.
The Family Resource Center in Tupelo is one of five accredited children’s advocacy centers in the state with six certified forensic interviewers on hand.
If abuse is found in a home, the Family Resource Center will provide counseling, court advocacy and help to fill out victims compensation packets. Counselors will take the children into court to help prepare for any needed testimony.
“We follow through until the very end,” Webb said.
The center performed more than 400 forensic interviews for children spanning 28 counties last year.
The center also offers classes to help parents identify healthy and unhealthy parenting skills and manage anger before abuse happens.
“As far as abuse goes, color does not make a difference, income does not make a difference, and education level does not make a difference,” Webb said.
To report a suspected case of child abuse anonymously, call (800) 222-8000.