April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and brings to light the fact that many do not realize the peril our children can experience and have to deal with right here in Northwest Florida. There are approximately 1,100 cases of child sexual and physical abuse reported annually in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, an average of three a day. Despite those big numbers, nearly two-thirds of child victims’ needs go unmet due to lack of reporting to authorities.
Enter the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC). They provide services for young child abuse victims and their families in a child-friendly environment. All support services and personnel are under one roof.
There are two centers—in Niceville in Okaloosa County, and the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs in Walton County. Neither location provides housing for children. It is estimated that for every child ECCAC helps, there are two children who are not helped.
Their heartbreaking stories include a six-year-old sexually abused by a grandfather, a 12-year-old with severe burns that were getting no attention, and a young child that witnessed a parent being brutally murdered.
These are but a few of the many children in the local community that have been helped by the ECCAC. ECCAC not only brings all organizations together so the judicial and healing process can be easier for the children who are victims of abandonment, abuse or neglect, it also provides mental health therapy for the children involved as well as their families.
In ECCAC’s 17-year history, approximately 11,000 children have received more than 43,000 services at no cost, including mental health therapy, crisis intervention, referrals to other community providers, interviews and medicals. They raise 60 percent of their annual budget for the two centers through special events, donations and community-sponsored fundraisers. The remaining money is generated through grant requests and government funding.
Another major undertaking in ECCAC’s child abuse prevention effort is the new Child Safety Matters program, made possible by a grant from Impact 100. This is a statewide initiative in elementary and middle schools. In the first five months in Okaloosa and Walton counties alone, ECCAC has empowered 2,100 students and 2,000 relevant adults with information and strategies to prevent, recognize and respond appropriately.
“Every year we try to create awareness of April being National Child Abuse Prevention month and the services that ECCAC can offer to child victims,” says ECCAC CEO Julie Hurst. “It is imperative that everyone do their part to help protect children.”
To create awareness of April being National Child Abuse Month, ECCAC is offering wreaths and yard signs for a $100 donation, and t-shirts for a $15 donation. Purchase online at ECCAC.org or call 850-833-9237 (Okaloosa County) or 850-892-0280 (Walton County).
– Kay Phelan