KIDS Center celebrates 20 years

By Shelby R. King The Bulletin

2014 Healing Hearts luncheon

The KIDS Center’s annual fundraising event will teach attendees how to help children who are suspected victims of abuse and learn how to prevent child abuse.

If you go

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 1

Where: The Riverhouse Convention Center, 3075 N. Business U.S. Highway 97

Cost: Free, but attendees are asked to make a donation to the KIDS Center

In a case pending in Deschutes County Circuit Court, a Redmond man is accused of using a stun gun, shock collars and waterboarding tactics, repeatedly, on two young children.

The children disclosed the abuse to adults they trusted, who contacted the state Department of Human Services and reported what they had learned. DHS then contacted the KIDS Center in Bend.

The child abuse intervention center provides medical evaluations, forensic interviews, family support and therapy for abused children in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

The professionals at the KIDS Center evaluate children up to 18 years old for free, Smith said. Children who come in for evaluation are asked only to tell their story one time in an attempt to minimize the trauma.

The center is celebrating its 20th year in 2014 and has helped more than 10,000 children, Executive Director Shelly Smith said last week. More than 50 percent of its $1.4 million annual budget comes from donations provided by individuals, corporations and private foundations.

“We had 404 children referred to us last year,” Smith said. “People want to believe it doesn’t happen around here, but there are huge problems everywhere. No community is immune.”

According to statistics from nonprofit child abuse prevention foundation “Darkness to Light, Stewards of Children,” approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday. About 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be sexually abused before turning 18.

Robin Antonson, director of development and prevention for the KIDS Center, said staff members work hard to dispel myths about child abuse.

“There is a high perception that it only happens in lower-class families,” she said. “We see kids from the upper class and the lower class.”

A child can be referred to the KIDS Center for an evaluation by law enforcement, DHS, a medical professional or a licensed therapist, Smith said. Once referred, the child and his or her family are interviewed by the professionals at the KIDS Center.

“We have three very skilled forensic interviewers and I’m constantly awed by how they’re able to read a child,” Smith said. “They say, ‘I talk to a lot of kids and nothing you can say will surprise me.’”

The interviews are video-recorded and are admissible as evidence in court. While the interview is in progress, medical professionals, DHS workers and often law enforcement watch in another room. “We like to have law enforcement here because sometimes they will leave mid-interview to go and arrest someone,” Smith said. “Or they go to the child’s home and collect evidence.”

After the interview, the child is seen by a medical professional. The KIDS Center has a doctor and nurse practitioners on staff full time, Smith said.

“We’ll do a full-body medical exam if the child will allow it,” Smith said. “We won’t force them, but if we need to collect evidence we will try really hard to get them to allow it.”

Once a child has been evaluated, the KIDS Center staff continues to offer support and counseling for up to a year after the first visit, Smith said.

“If kids don’t get help, they often end up with mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues,” Antonson said. “The cost to our society of not addressing the issue is huge.”

When a child is abused, statistics show 90 percent of the time it is at the hands of a friend or relative known and trusted by the child, Smith said. When a child discloses abuse, one of the worst things an adult can do is accuse the child of lying.

“That’s such a devastating statement to make to a child,” Antonson said. “Children do not lie about things they haven’t experienced.”

The KIDS Center implemented the “Darkness to Light” program that empowers adults to protect children. The program trains adults on the five steps to shielding kids from abuse. “Darkness to Light” recommends adults learn the facts about the prevalence of child abuse; minimize the opportunity for abusers by reducing one-on-one time between children and adults; talk openly with kids about their bodies, sex and boundaries; learn to recognize the signs of abuse and react responsibly when a child discloses abuse.

Training costs $20 per person and is available in English and Spanish. The center also offers training on keeping kids safe from Internet predators and learning what is appropriate sexual behavior for kids 2 to 7 years old.

For more information about the KIDS Center or to sign up for a course, visit www.kidscenter.org or call 541-383-5958.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, sking@bendbulletin.com

The KIDS Center in Bend, spring 2009. (Sumitted photo)