Child advocate Jackalene Antunes urges people to make one simple phone call if they suspect any child who, through no fault of their own, is a victim of abuse.
“At any given moment (Curry County) averages approximately 35 children that need our help,” said Antunes, recently hired as director, interviewer and coordinator for the Curry Child Advocacy Center.
While child abuse is certainly a problem that is not unique to our area, it is an ongoing one here locally that has devastating effects on it’s young victims, she said.
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month and Antunes wants people to know they can help her agency make a difference children’s lives.
She takes out a thick folder filled with numerous cases of child abuse — both physical and sexual.
“These kids could use someone in their corner,” she said.
Often, people tend to look the other way, not wanting to become involved, Antunes said. This leads to child abuse being under reported. Experts from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) estimate that only 1 in 10 cases of child abuse are ever reported, she said.
Antunes wants the community to know that, when it comes to protecting children, her office is “open for business.” She is assisted by Megan Riffle, of Curry County Human Services.
“None of us can help a child until a responsible adult reports a concern of child abuse or neglect,” Riffle said.
The duo use a small office that occupies a tiny space in the lower level of the Curry County Court house in Gold Beach. The office straddles two rooms — one a debriefing/interview room, decorated for children; the other a place where parents and authorities wait to learn the outcome of debriefing sessions.
The interview room has child-friendly items such as teddy bears, childlike stick figure portraits on the wall and a toy train.
This is where children of suspected abuse are interviewed, evaluated and their stories recorded. If abuse is suspected, Antunes can enlist the help of a local team of professionals such as child welfare case workers, victim advocates and prosecutors. Extended team members include those who work in public health, schools, and treatment facilities.
Antunes office is open 1 to 5 p.m. on Mondays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays.
She is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle crisis situations.
“I’m always on call,” she said.
Antunes’ hopes that educating others about child abuse will reduce the number of calls she receives.
“Too many times there are families in crisis that could use our help,” she said. “We want them to know that, instead of lashing out at their kids, they should come see us instead. We can help them cope.”
So what are the signs of child abuse?
Antunes advises people to “trust their gut.”
“People’s first instincts are often correct, even if they can’t put a finger on it.”
Telltale signs of possible physical abuse could include bruises and marks that aren’t the usual skinned knees. Other indicators may be head injuries, poisoning, fractures and/or sprains, burns and/or scalds, internal injuries, electric shock, drug-affected babies, and shaken baby syndrome.
Other red flags to look for include a parent whose explanation of a child’s physical injury doesn’t make sense, a child who appears anxious, avoids questions, or is fearful of adults, or a child who may be overly aggressive or passive themselves.
Those who suspect a child is being abused are encouraged to make an anonymous call to Child Protective Services at 1-800-510-0000.
“A single phone call could save a life,” Antunes said.