Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s Grantee Spotlight
“Child Advocacy Center Makes Kids the Mission”
When it comes to helping children in Montgomery County who have been subject to physical or sexual abuse, Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center leads the way—building partnerships across the community to provide justice, education, and healing. In a new initiative, Mission Kids is now working with the Pottstown School District to prevent abuse through education using the nationally acclaimed ROAR child education program. This child-centered, evidence-based education program teaches kids aged 4 to 8 about body safety, with the goal of providing the knowledge and
confidence to speak out.
“We weren’t sure how schools would respond, but we went to the Pottstown School District, gave them a preview, showed them the evidence and data that supports the program, and they loved it,” said Leslie Slingsby, executive director of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center. “We’re excited that over the next six years, every kindergartner, first grader, and second grader is going to get this program in Pottstown.”
Those prevention efforts will continue to reduce instances of abuse into the future. But for the hundreds of children each year who’ve already experienced sexual or physical abuse, Mission Kids will be there to help them through some of their hardest days. The multidisciplinary team approach at Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center brings together everyone who responds to child abuse in the community to help deal with the crisis at hand. “All of these professionals surround this child at Mission Kids,” said Slingsby. “The child and family come here and they have a forensic interview, and the entire team is meeting and watching the interview, but they’re also strategizing. They’re talking ahead of time and sharing information to see how they can best help that child and conduct an investigation.”
Over the past decade, Mission Kids has reduced the number of interviews that kids have had to endure, helped ensure accountability for offenders against children, and contributed to an increase in the number of kids seeing a child abuse doctor. “Before the child advocacy center, I worked with kids who thought they were pregnant, thought that they had AIDS, thought that they had a sexually transmitted infection— because no one talked to them about it,” said Slingsby. “I remember in therapy, one child saying, ‘When’s my baby coming?’ because they didn’t have a doctor to tell them that their bodies were healthy and normal and just like any other 11 year old’s body. Changing that has been a huge benefit for our kids in Montgomery County.”
Helping families understand their children’s trauma and mitigate the impact of abuse is central to Mission Kids’ approach. “We try to help the family unit deal with the crisis at hand and make sure the caregivers are understanding of what’s happening. The family advocates go with them through the criminal justice system,” said Kelli Murphy, Mission Kids grants manager. “We
want to make it as likely as possible that they will follow through with services because there are so many barriers.” Mission Kids is dedicated to providing help to everyone who needs it, so eliminating those barriers is a priority. “Life is never simple, so there may be other things going on in peoples’ lives. The family advocate can help provide resources if they need food, housing, or transportation,” said Murphy. “All these can be barriers to support services, so that family advocate is really helping this family get through this. That sometimes includes other things than just the crisis at hand.”
Mission Kids works to help families follow through with support services, partnering with qualified local counselors to ensure every child has access to care. Now, through a new partnership with Creative Health Services, Mission Kids has two resident counselors to provide support. “We’ve seen a huge jump because of our partnership with Creative Health and having counselors on site at Mission Kids,” said Slingsby. “It’s helped to see the difference that it makes in children’s lives.” For many families, there’s a level of comfort and trust that comes with counselors being located at Mission Kids. “They’re coming here under terrible circumstances, but, in the surveys they fill out, they’re telling us that they like it here—that they’re happy here. I have families that stop by afterwards and want to say hello,” said Slingsby. “This is somewhere that they felt comfortable— somewhere that they felt supported, so having them come back and see a therapist has been pretty easy for us.”
Staff members at Mission Kids are working to become more visible to the community, appearing on local television and attending community fairs to introduce themselves and help the general public understand their work. “People normally are referred to us in times of crisis, and that is not the best time to introduce a community member to Mission Kids,” said Slingsby. “We go to community events and talk about Mission Kids as much as possible, because we want our community members to feel confident if and when they ever have to come here for services.”
By the Numbers:
*Data from the Community Health Needs Assessment
• 5% of adults in the Tri-County Area reported enduring sexual abuse as a child.
• 10% of Tri-County adults reported experiencing physical abuse as a child.
• 6% of adults in the Tri-County Area experienced physical neglect as a child.
• 19% of Tri-County adults have had four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Read the entire PAHWF Community Benefit Report (Winter 2020) HERE