BERLIN — Worcester County’s Cricket Center, created five years ago to advocate on behalf of victims of child physical and sexual abuse, is making a difference for the most vulnerable in the community, but the program continues to rely on the generosity of area residents to perpetuate the unfunded mandate.
The county’s Child Advocacy Center, or Cricket Center, housed in a satellite office on the Atlantic General Hospital campus, provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to the growing problem of child physical and sexual abuse in the community. Using a “one-stop shopping” approach, the Cricket Center includes child protection workers, medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, AGH and Life Crisis staff all under one roof with the goal of easing the trauma of the young victims and their family members and facilitating the emotional healing process.
“In the past, a victim of child abuse or sexual abuse would first be taken out of school by a social worker, interviewed by the police, returned to school, then taken for a medical exam, probably interviewed by another police officer and then somebody from the state’s attorney’s office to begin the prosecution process,” said Cricket Center Program Manager Wendy Myers this week. “What we found out was that the system in place was, in most cases, re-traumatizing the victim. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. That’s just the way the system was set up.”
To that end, Worcester County’s Cricket Center, and similar child advocacy centers all over the state and across the country, combines all of the needed resources under one roof, easing the burden on the victims and their families with a comprehensive approach.
“It’s a safe environment where child victims and their families can speak with social workers, tell their stories to law enforcement officials and prosecutors, get the medical attention they need, meet with a SAFE nurse and Life Crisis officials all under one roof,” said Myers. “It provides an environment where they feel safe and can get the help they need without being dragged all over the county to the different resources. It’s a one-stop shop, kind of the Wal-Mart for child abuse.”
Myers said victim interviews are recorded and are admissible in court, often preventing the victims telling and retelling their stories, which can cause them to relive the trauma sometimes months later when the cases go to trial. In some cases, the fear of testifying against the accused is a deterrent to coming forward in the first place.
“There are often times when the kids don’t even have to take the stand,” said Myers. “Not always, because a defendant has a right to face his or her accuser in Maryland, but we can often prevent a child from going to court and testifying against their abuser.”
Child physical abuse and sexual abuse is a growing problem, but more often than not, the accused is someone familiar to the young victim. Statistics show 80 percent of the time the accused is someone with whom the child has a relationship of some sort.
“We were all warned about the scary stranger in the bushes, but most of the time, it’s someone the child knows and often closely,” said Myers. “It might be the boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent, someone who lives in the house or even an aunt or uncle.”
All of the services provided by the Cricket Center are free to the victims and their families, but finding the funding to sustain the program has become increasingly difficult. Worcester County’s Cricket Center, and similar programs across Maryland are mandated by the state, yet the state does not provide a dedicated funding source.
“We are not a line item on any budget,” said Myers. “We did get some financial support from the county for the physical building, but there are no funds dedicated for the daily operation. We do receive some grant money, but otherwise, we are completely supported by community donations. The community has been extremely generous, and without the support of the residents of Worcester County, we honestly could never make it.”
To that end, the Cricket Center is constantly battling to stay ahead of the funding curve with a series of fundraisers throughout the year.
The program’s next significant event is the Crickets on the Bay scheduled for next Sunday, Oct. 9, at Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill from 4-9 p.m. The $50 admission price includes dinner and an open bar along with live music from “Bad Mojo.” The highlight of the evening will likely be a chance for participants to win a diamond valued at $3,500 donated by Park Place Jewelers. The event replaces the Cricket Center’s more formal black-tie gala held each year.
Tickets will not be sold at the door, although they can be purchased in advance as late as the day before the event. For more information, contact the Cricket Center at 410-641-0097, ext. 4204, or visit www.thecricketcenter.com for more information about the event.