By Shelley Young
When a child walks into the new Dee Norton Advocacy Center in Mount Pleasant, he or she will be given a colorful bird to add to a mural of a tree painted on the wall in the lobby.
“The idea is for them to know they are not alone,” says executive director Carole Swiecicki, as she leads a tour of the facility one week before her staff is scheduled to move in. “I just can’t wait to see them full of birds.”
The building is bright with children’s books in the lobby and artwork painted by staff with the help of artists at Redux Contemporary Art Center hanging in the three interview rooms. There’s a room with a two-way mirror specifically designed for parent-child interaction therapy, and purple, green and blue painted ceiling panels to help direct children to specific areas.
Now that the Long Point Road facility is open, Dee Norton leaders will begin renovating and expanding the existing King Street facility, which is expected to be complete by spring 219.
The $5 million capital campaign launched in May 2017 is designed to expand the advocacy’s center’s capacity so it can serve up to 2,000 children next year and as many as 3,500 annually. Last year, the center helped 1,808 children in Berkeley and Charleston counties.
“With the proper support, children can, and do, heal from the effects of abuse,” Carole says. “This expansion will ensure that children in the Lowcountry will be able to heal for years to come.”
In Charleston County, an estimated 4,154 children are sexually or physically abused every year. In Berkeley County, an additional 1,740 children are abused each year.
Dee Norton identified the need to build a new facility in Mount Pleasant after research found that the advocacy center has been serving only 36 percent of the estimated children who are abused in Mount Pleasant and areas east of the Cooper and only 21 percent of the estimated children in Daniel Island and Cainhoy. Research found that some people weren’t aware that the services were available to them and others didn’t want to travel to downtown Charleston.
Most children are referred to Dee Norton from a law enforcement agency or the Department of Social Services because they have experienced physical abuse or witnessed domestic violence. About 10 percent are referred because of suspected sexual abuse.
Unlike some other child advocacy centers, Dee Norton also accepts referrals from family members and caregivers.
Almost half of the children who are referred are between the ages of 7 and 12.
Dee Norton is the only place in Charleston and Berkeley counties that offers a non-leading forensic interview. The interview determines what happened and whether the child has been abused. The interview are conducted by specifically trained therapists, are recorded and can be used as evidence in court. After the forensic interview, Dee Norton can provide a medical exam, if needed, and mental health services to help healing and recovery.
The services Dee Norton provides are at no cost to families because they are paid for through grants and donations.
Dee Norton also works to prevent child abuse in the community. Carole says when children go back to school is a good time to help them re-establish boundaries. She encourages parents to talk to their children about where their private parts are (bathtime is a good time for this conversation) and to remind them that no one is allowed to touch them. She also encourages parents to tell their children that they can talk to them anything and should not keep secrets from their parents.
Abuse can happen even under the most watchful and protective eyes, Carole says.
“The best thing for parents to know is that they can call us. Children can heal. We see them heal every day. Kids who come to us are the ones who move past it.”
Save the Date
2018 Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center Annual Luncheon
11:30 a.m. Oct. 5
Charleston Marriott, 170 Lockwood Drive
Cleveland kidnapping survivor Michelle Knight will be the speaker at the annual luncheon. Michelle will share details of her experience, survival and healing process. She imparts vital lessons for other survivors, including invaluable takeaways for those who work with victims of trauma and abuse.
You can volunteer with the Dee Norton Advocacy Center as a greeter in the lobby (requires a background check) or to be a member of a planning committee for fundraising events. There are also volunteer opportunities for done-in-a-day projects, such as landscaping and cleaning. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit deenortoncenter.org for more information.
How to Talk with Your Kids about Child Abuse:
- Talk to your child about their body. Use correct names for body parts, and teach which parts are private.
- Talk to your child about boundaries. They have a right to say, “No,” when they don’t want to be touched.
- Talk to your child about what to do. Tell them to say “no,” go to a safe place and tell a trusted adult if something happens.
- Teach your child they should never keep secrets from you.
- Teach your child they should always tell you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable.
- Begin these conversations with children at a very young age.
- Encourage open communication with your child.