SNOW HILL – Officials expect 2021 to be a busy year for the local child advocacy center as kids begin to return to school.
Representatives of Worcester County’s child advocacy center said despite a decline in referrals during the pandemic, they expect that number to jump back up now that kids are again being seen by teachers and medical providers on a regular basis.
“We know there will be much trauma on the other side of this,” said Wendy Myers, executive director of the Cricket Center. “Kids are now returning to school, they’re seeing teachers, medical professionals again. They are mandated reporters. These people have not had contact with kids for many, many months now.”
Myers highlighted the importance of the Cricket Center, the Lower Shore’s only accredited child advocacy center, in a presentation to the Worcester County Commissioners last week. Though the facility remained open every day of the pandemic, Myers said statistics indicated many cases of child abuse likely went unreported during 2020. On average, the Cricket Center receives 85 referrals per month. In 2020, the center received 883 referrals, or about 74 a month.
“From this we know there were probably 11 Worcester County children every month of 2020 who were maltreated, trapped with their maltreater, and their abuse was not reported to us,” Myers said. “We know next year will be tough as we begin to recover. The first two months of ‘21 have certainly been very busy for us now that kids are returning to school.”
The Cricket Center works with a variety of partners — Atlantic General Hospital, local law enforcement, trauma therapists, family advocates and prosecutors — to respond to situations of child abuse.
“We don’t want them to be lifelong victims,” said Deb Travers, president of the Cricket Center’s board of directors. “We want them to go back into the community and thrive in their community, give back to their community.”
While high profile cases make headlines, Myers said there were so many children whose stories weren’t heard. The center plays a vital role in helping local children who find themselves in abusive situations. Funding, however, is always a struggle for the nonprofit. Myers said that the center’s annual budget of about $300,000 was typically funded with $10,000 from Worcester County, $14,700 from the Town of Ocean City, $100,000 from fundraisers and the remainder from grants.
“Something that differentiates us, we are not reimbursed by insurance companies,” Travers said. “All of our funding is grants and the generosity of the community.”
Adding to the financial challenges of the Cricket Center is its need for a larger facility, as it has outgrown its space on the Atlantic General Hospital campus.
“We’ve been very fortunate that a benefactor has stepped forward and donated an acre of land to us here in Snow Hill which is going to be much more conducive to serve the children in Pocomoke City,” Travers said, adding it would also put the center in close proximity to law enforcement partners in the county seat.
While the need for a new building wasn’t the focus of the presentation, she wanted the commissioners to be aware the center was planning for its future.
Commissioners thanked Myers and Travers for the information and praised the Cricket Center’s efforts in the community.
“Although all nonprofits serve the county in some form or fashion, I kind of think it’s more the commissioners’ obligation to work with you all and help you in the future move forward,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed.
“I think the county and the people of this county do owe you the benefit of the services you provide for the kids that don’t necessarily have a voice and you’re giving them one,” he said.
Commissioner Diana Purnell thanked the Cricket Center staff for their commitment to kids.
“This has been a horrendous year, especially for our kids, the smallest of survivors,” she said. “I appreciate what you’re doing.”