Buncombe DA Todd Williams on Child Abuse Prevention and the Mountain CAC
April 7, 2018
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of this topic is not only a temptation but also an understandable response. There were more than 4,000 reported cases of child maltreatment in Buncombe County last year. The most common way adults abuse children is by inflicting emotional or physical pain and trauma or causing harm through neglect. Nationally, one in six cases of child abuse is a case of sexual abuse; a trusted adult is most often the offender.
That reality breaks your heart. It can also make you feel as if our community is broken beyond repair. We could feel hopeless. But there is another way to view these fissures. Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
After visiting the Mountain Child Advocacy Center (MountainCAC), we left feeling positive. We were coming from two different perspectives, one of us as part of the system and the other as a volunteer, yet we were both uplifted by the visit even though being depressed made more sense. Why?
The answer is, because MountainCAC showed us a light in the darkness. MountainCAC offers hope and is a model that should be replicated.
Housed in Mission Children’s Hospital, MountainCAC uses a team approach to case management. Children and their families access medical professionals, law enforcement, social workers, therapists and prosecutors, all in one place. There is also a Family Advocate who helps the caregivers and children navigate the process and makes referrals for other services. The team is efficient and effective because it can collaborate, avoid duplicating efforts, ensure tasks are performed, and yes, save taxpayer money.
MountainCAC offers hope because it provides research-based methods of treatment that are proven to be highly effective. Recently achieving nationally accredited as a Child Advocacy Center, MountainCAC provides therapists who are expertly trained in evidence-based approaches.
Additionally, the non-abusive parents/caregivers are trained to become partners in treatment and learn how to complement therapy sessions. However, because some of these caregivers were abused as children themselves, they must work to combat old memories before they are able to adequately provide support. MountainCAC offers therapy to them, which is proven effective in treating adults who suffer from PTSD. Incidentally, this is the only North Carolina CAC west of Charlotte that is treating caregivers who are child abuse survivors.
MountainCAC also offers hope in the form of prevention. Adults can participate in “Recognizing and Responding” classes, and parents can join parenting classes and Non-Offending Parent/Caregiver support groups. The MountainCAC Community Educator offered personal safety classes to more than 9,000 Buncombe County children in grades K-5 last year. As a consequence, several of these children self-reported their own abuse.
Financial hardship is not part of the equation for victims and families at MountainCAC. Often, victims cannot seek help in part because the abuser controls the family finances. MountainCAC provides services at no cost, and does so while depending mainly on financing from grants and community support.
Because of these reasons and the spirit found in the people who work there, we believe your support of MountainCAC is warranted, and we believe your support will be effectively used. When you support MountainCAC and its mission, you will join a growing number of people who are helping, in part, because they have learned, as Fred Rogers observed, “Always look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping… Because if you can look for the helpers, you’ll know that there is hope.”
Debbie Welch is a former director of UNC Asheville's Community Leadership Programs and the former Buncombe County public information officer. She lives in Asheville.
Todd Williams is Buncombe County District Attorney and a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Law.