A canvas of hearts on display at Braveheart Children’s Advocacy Center in Cambridge represents a child who has been served in the last nine months by Braveheart.
Johanna Hager, forensic interviewer at Braveheart, said, “We show the canvas to the children who are served at Braveheart so that they know they are not alone in their experience.”
But so much is different this year for the Center. The annual Braveheart fundraiser which is held in April of each year was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We were not able to hold the fundraiser due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place order,” Hager said. “Basically, that annual fundraiser is held to cover the cost of our expenses not covered in grants.”
“Money from grants received pays for direct services only so we are always in need of funds to pay for operations, any type of repair or replacement of equipment, as well as administrative equipment. We strive to keep all of our services at Braveheart free to the children we serve.”
Hager, who has worked with Braveheart since 2012, said her position is “frustrating because it’s a never ending stream and it’s never going to stop. The best we can do is take one case at a time and try to do the best for the kids that we do find out about.”
Prior to the shelter-in-place order from COVID-19, Hager had received at least one report a day of child abuse since the first of the year and “that tells me how great the need is to protect our children,” she said. “Since the shelter-in-place order, reports of abuse have dramatically decreased because the eyes of the community are no longer on children and that is frightening.”
Braveheart Children’s Advocacy Center provides therapy for child survivors of abuse in five counties – Henry, Marshall, Putnam, Stark and Bureau, but last year nearly 70 percent of the sexual abuse cases seen or reported came out of Henry County, Hager said. “In the last two years, our largest number of cases have been from Geneseo, involving multiple children,” she said.
Being good listeners and qualified helpers is the mission of the staff at Braveheart, which opened in Cambridge in 1999, covering Henry County and expanded to other areas in 2002 and again in 2007.
“The name Braveheart represents the courage it takes for children to talk about the things that have happened to them, the dedication of our team, the innocence at the heart of every child and the heart of the community to speak up in partnership with us,” Hager said.
“We want to help create an awareness of the tragedy of child abuse,” she said. Contributions to Braveheart can be made by mailing checks, made payable to Braveheart, 292 South East Road, Suite A, Cambridge, IL 61238, or by clicking the donate button at the CAC website – braveheartcac.org.
Each agency or professional has a different role in the intervention process, but many of their needs to gather information are the same. Prior to CACs, their efforts would result in multiple interviews of the victim, which could result in re-traumatizing the victim they are seeking to assist…CACs coordinate the efforts, Hager said.
Coordinated efforts have other benefits including reducing costs to the community. Cases handled through a CAC cost on average $1,000 less than cases not coordinated through a CAC.
“Since opening, we have served over 3,000 children and their families,” Hager said.
“We average 150- 180 cases per year. We know that low years do not mean less abuse, it means less reporting. Most of our cases are sexual abuse, we see about four physical abuse cases a year.”
She shared some startling statistics, including that one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
“Of the five counties we serve, the majority are Henry County cases,” she said. “We work with children as young as two years and we also will interview adults who have experienced extreme trauma or developmental delays.”