Salem’s Liberty House is the designated Child Advocacy Center for Marion and Polk counties.
Despite the passage of the 2008 Karly’s Law – named for a 3-year old Corvallis girl who died after her abuse went unreported – child abuse is on the rise in Oregon. The Child Welfare Division at the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS), who manages the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline (ORCAH), claims they received more than 80,000 reports of abuse and neglect in 2021, up 8% from 2020.
Liberty House is the designated Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) for Marion and Polk counties – one of 22 CACs in Oregon and one of more than 900 across the country. In observance of April as Child Abuse Prevention month, Keizer City Council invited representatives from Salem Liberty House to speak about their work and the challenges they are facing at the April 18 council meeting.
“There are three key areas in what we do: Clinical assessment, health and wellness – including mental health – and prevention,” said Liberty House Deputy Executive Director Bruce Anderson. “We also facilitate the multi-disciplinary team established in statute, which brings together Liberty House, county child welfare services, DHS, law enforcement and our district attorneys.”
Anderson said caseloads have been increasing at a high rate in recent years.
“We’ve seen a double-digit increase in our case load over the last two years – with rates more than 30% higher than they were in 2019,” he said.
Anderson’s numbers match what has been happening across the country in the last decade. According a study done in 2013 by scholars at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center and published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care – about one in every 10 American children will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Anderson said Liberty House is particularly well-equipped to meet this challenge.
“We support children and families in getting the help they need through fewer appointments and more coordination – and our staff supports families both in English and Spanish,” he said. “We’re child-focused, so that the child – our patient – is guiding things forward, not us.”
He said they are staffed with medical professionals in a specially-trained area of pediatrics who can do assessments of children from newborn to 18 years of age in cases where abuse is suspected.
“Our staff is trained to identify subtle aspects of child abuse that sometimes get overlooked,” he said.
Through their health and wellness program, Liberty House can help children cope with the trauma they experienced. Anderson said the program can even help adults who experienced abuse as children.
Liberty House Prevention Program Director Kyle Tarr also spoke to the council, explaining the role of prevention and the philosophy behind their work.
“We utilize Darkness to Light as our foundational training,” said Tarr, referring to the a non-profit which sponsors research and education into child sex abuse prevention. Darkness to Light funded the study cited above which determined one in every 10 American children suffer from child abuse and they provide tools to CACs all over the country.
“It’s the only national program that’s proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes, and change child protective behaviors,” he said.
Tarr said Liberty House focuses on preventing not only sexual abuse, but digital abuse – a rising problem among youth with ever-increasing access to social media. He said there are a number of ways people can get involved, starting with scheduling a free training session.
“Reach out and contact us,” he said. “We can schedule up to five people per class.”
Liberty House works closely with local non-profits and agencies including CASA of Marion County. The Oregon Child Abuse Hotline is (855) 503-7233. You can find out more about Darkness to Light at d2l.org.