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Child abuse focus of breakfast
August 26, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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As child abuse in the area and around the nation grows steadily, two local agencies plan to let people from local communities know how they can make a difference in the fight against it.

Weborg 21 Centre in Gering hosts the Light of Hope Breakfast on Thursday, September 1 at 7 a.m., the eighth year for the event.

The breakfast is sponsored by two regional agencies that serve as advocates for children in crisis. The Scotts Bluff County office of Court Appointed Special Advocates and CAPstone in Gering works with the hundreds of children involved in abuse and neglect cases entering the court system.

“We want to raise awareness of our mission in fighting child abuse,” said the court appointed advocates’ Director Andrea Rein. “We also want the public to know how they can help the children.”

Rein said, in cases of child abuse or neglect, a judge will assign an advocate volunteer to be the eyes and ears for the case outside the courtroom. “Volunteers would visit with school counselors and teachers if the child is of school age,” she said. “Most importantly, they spend time with the child to determine how they would like the problem resolved.”

These volunteers then submit a written report on the child’s experiences for the judge to use in resolving cases. “Child abuse and neglect has been pretty steady locally,” Rein said. “Still, Scotts Bluff County, on a per capita basis, is in the top five counties in the state of Nebraska for these cases. It takes the entire community to stop abuse and neglect.”

CAPStone, which serves as a child advocacy center for the entire Panhandle, also provides support. Their mission is to reduce trauma and promote healing for child abuse victims and their families in a child friendly environment where children can be heard and supported.

“We’re a child friendly place where children feel welcome and safe,” said the Gering based agency’s Director Holly Brandt. “Before we existed, kids were often interviewed by uniformed cops at the police station.”

CAPstone provides trained forensics interviewers to gather information from the children and other family members. The agency also provides full-time child advocates to assist non-offending family members with support and services. “Our goal is to get the child on the way toward healing,” Brandt said. “We provide support and counseling and medical exams if needed.”

If a child needs to appear in court, counselors will take them to the courtroom ahead of time. “We show the child where everyone sits and help get them familiar with the setting. We also ask them questions like what’s their favorite pizza and ask them to describe it. It prepares them for the real thing.”

Recent statistics have shown the demand for a response. In 2015, CAPStone interviewed 302 children. In 2016, the current number has risen to 412 cases.

“We’ve been going into the community to help educate people about the problem,” Brandt said. “I hope it helps make an impact by getting more people reporting cases of suspected child abuse.”

The Light of Hope Breakfast is one of the major fundraisers for CASA and CAPStone. The breakfast is free, and freewill donations can be made. For more information, call Andrea Rein with Scotts Bluff County CASA at 308-672-2922.
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