Child abuse is a difficult topic to broach, but statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate it’s a serious public health issue: At least one in seven children experienced child abuse and neglect in the last year; experts believe many cases are unreported. In 2020, 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect in the U.S.
In New Hampshire’s Upper Valley region, the Child Advocacy Center of Grafton and Sullivan counties at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center aims to combat this trend by providing a safe place for children and families when there are concerns about child abuse and neglect in their lives.
Two videos posted on YouTube and narrated by children show the caring environment of the CAC, with sites in Grafton County and Sullivan County. Bright, colorful waiting and interview rooms are filled with toys and artwork to welcome children.
The goals of health care professionals working at the CAC, part of the Ken & Vickie French Child Advocacy and Protection Program, are to ensure the safety, health and well-being of abused and neglected children ages 3 to 18; help put children on a path toward healing; offer a place where children can talk about their abuse in a safe environment with a child forensic expert; and provide follow-up services in a child-friendly environment. The CAC team works with other professionals, including child protective services social workers, police investigators, mental health professionals, victim advocates and medical providers.
In addition, the CAC team works collaboratively with community partners on “Shield Our Children from Harm," providing professional education and community outreach to help reduce the impact of child abuse in the community. This collaborative effort includes an annual professional conference held at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon to share cutting-edge research, knowledge and education on best practices in all aspects of child maltreatment.