By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Some doctor appointments require more than the eight minutes most MD’s budget for each patient.
When a child becomes the victim of abuse or neglect, it takes special training to draw them out and specialty physicians to document the effects. Those are the services offered by Salem’s Liberty House staff, and McNary High School’s fine arts department is seeking to bolster their efforts with music and dramatic performances Friday, Feb. 7, in the fifth annual Night of Hope. Tickets are $5 and the show begins at 7 p.m.
The school is also hosting a stuffed animal and blanket drive at McNary Feb. 3-7. Bins will be placed around the school and in the commons area.
“We have a great partnership with McNary. They have done this for a number of years and we visit their health classes about dating violence and domestic violence. They reached out to us and they’ve continued that tradition,” said Adrienne Christian, development and volunteer with Liberty House. “We are fortunate to have their support in the ways they do.”
Liberty House specialists tend to the needs of more than 400 children annually with appointments designed to create a space where “a child’s voice is heard.” Most cases involve child neglect, but physical and sexual abuse are no small component. About two-thirds of the children referred to its services are female and more than 70 percent are under age 7. It is not a shelter or crisis service, but Liberty House counselors and physicians are seeing an increased number of patients who have no permanent shelter.
Once an appointment is scheduled, children are given head-to-toe exams and spend time with pediatric counselors.
“The counselors create a safe space for the children to talk about what did or did not happen. Sometimes the children are operating under the threat of violence to them or their families and it takes special people to make them feel safe,” said Alison Kelley, Liberty House CEO.
Liberty House physicians and counselors develop a report that can be forwarded to primary care physicians and potentially used in prosecutions of offenders. Beyond the needs of the child, Liberty House provides consultation for parents and connections to other support services.
“Every single person encounters things that they didn’t see coming and, if you are a parent or caregiver and something like this happens, it can be shattering. We have the right people who can be connect parents and caregivers to the support they’ll need,” Kelley said.
Kelley also encourages parents and guardians who find themselves at wit’s end with their children to contact Liberty House at 503-540-0288. Simply by reaching out, they might discover they’re not alone and there are services to support them.
The staff at Liberty House focus on education and awareness of child abuse and neglect in equal measure to their role in dealing with its aftermath.
While “stranger danger” is pummeled into the minds of children, predators are more frequently someone who has gained the trust of both child and parent. There are few traits universal to victims or predators, but Kelley said it’s important to know when to trust parenting instincts and when to react with something more than instinct.
“We encourage parents to always know where their children are and to trust their instincts,” Kelley said. “But we also urge them to listen and inquire. When a child comes home from a stay with their grandparents and says they don’t like them, the temptation is to tell the child that’s not nice and they shouldn’t say such things because we want the hurt to be over quickly. It’s better to ask a child to tell them more about why they feel that way and have them talk through it. Children usually have to disclose what’s happened multiple times before someone listens.”
It’s not a requirement to be a victim or someone who knows a victim to get involved with Liberty House’s effort.
Steven Broncheau, a development coordinator with Liberty House, was sitting on a grand jury for several months when he first heard about the organization.
“The cases that came through with Liberty House involved were always put together better, and that’s what made me want to get involved,” he said.
The organization requires a healthy financial foundation to maintain the health of its providers. Donations can be submitted through its website libertyhousecenter.org. Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks ranging from office and clerical work to playcare attendants who help keep children occupied while caregivers meet with adults.