Parish Mental Health Counselors Stress Community Involvement in Reporting Child Abuse
With graphic details of child abuse allegations at Penn State now made public worldwide, one parish mental health counselor said these tragic events underscore the need for public involvement in reporting child abuse.
“Many of us wonder how child abuse can go unnoticed, unreported and unrecognized for so long,” said Stacy House, a mental health counselor for child abuse at the Ascension Counseling Center in Gonzales. “The truth is that many abusers continue to, or habitually abuse children until they are found out.”
Statistics released from the Department of Social Services, Office of Community Services show between July 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006, there were 12,746 total valid child abuse allegations reported in the state of Louisiana.
In Ascension Parish, during that time period, there were 130 total valid allegations of child abuse. Of those, 88 were neglect, 26 were physical and 16 were sexual.
House said most child victims will not report the abuse for a variety of reasons including having close personal relationships with their abusers.
“This should be a reminder to adults and caregivers that it is very important to be our children’s and our communities children’s advocate,” House said. “We must speak for the children when they are unable to speak for themselves. And if they do find the courage to tell their stories, we need to take this information with the utmost seriousness. When we suspect abuse, we need to follow-up and report information.”
House said it is very probable that someone may know a child who is being abused. She said statistics show one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays.
“These statistics are very scary,” House said. “But it is even scarier to ignore the signs and allow the abuse to continue. You have to stand up for your kids.
“Legally for most people, they are not mandated reporters. Most people report because it’s the right thing to do. We call it a civic responsibility. For pastors, for child care workers, for teachers, for counselors, we’re mandated reporters. So it means the loss of license and the loss of a job or loss of career if we don’t report. That’s pretty serious.”
House said the Ascension Counseling Center offers many different services for residents while they also work with other agencies in handling child abuse cases. These services are part of Ascension Parish Government. The Ascension Counseling Center offers low cost counseling due to being supported by a property tax millage.
“We work closely with the Child Advocacy Services in Gonzales. They provide forensic interviewing and work closely with the Department of Children and Family Services, the Gonzales Police Department and the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office,” House said. “After the court cases have gone through, that’s when we step in and help the family deal with the traumatic incidents that have happened with the kids. We help them cope and help them move on from there. It could be individual counseling. It could also be parent coaching to help the parent move on from there.”
House said children can be protected from abuse if parents choose group situations for their child instead of one-on-one meetings with adults. She stresses parents should have open dialogue with their children and to make sure and speak openly about sexual abuse.
“If you have difficulty discussing these matters, your child will likely have difficulty too,” House said. “If you have suspicion that abuse is occurring, act on it.”
To anonymously report child abuse in Louisiana, you may call 1-855-4LA-KIDS. If you are suffering from past child abuse and would like counseling or additional resources, you may call the Ascension Counseling Center at 225-621-1113. Additional resources are also available at D21.org or childadv.net.