Lily Pad teams with state to launch child abuse initiative

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga. -- In the long run, it costs less to prevent child abuse than it does to investigate it.

In light of that, state and area officials have teamed up to launch the "Stewards of Children" initiative to combat the problem.

The initiative, led by the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, is aimed at training adults in protective measures. As of November 2009, nearly 300 facilitators have trained close to 11,000 people through the program.

Officials are now looking at Southwest Georgia to move the idea forward.

"We've identified key communities in Georgia, Albany being one of them," said Nikki Berger, prevention educator with the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. "There is a great base here and a great interdisciplinary team."

The initiative's goal is to educate 5 percent of the adult population, which is what officials refer to as the "tipping point."

"To see a change, the theory is that 5 percent of the population needs to have the information," Berger said. "By training five percent, you can make a difference."

In Dougherty County, that figure equals 3,591 people over the next five years. To date, 270 people have been trained over a 16-month period. This year, officials are looking to reach out to 500 people.

The seeds were planted in Albany a year ago. Now officials are ready to take the next step.

"They have their feet firmly on the ground, and now is the time to provide the community information," Berger said. "It's an opportunity to get folks involved."

The program is open to any person over the age of 16. The cost to participate is $15, which is used to pay for the course materials. Training is conducted over a 150-minute period.

In Dougherty County, the direct and immediate costs of child sexual abuse is nearly $10.4 million annually. The long-term costs and losses caused by child sexual abuse locally is over $107.5 million annually.

The immediate and tangible costs of intervention and treatment for a single incident of substantiated child sexual abuse is $14,345, most of which is paid for by the public sector. The U.S. spends $3.4 billion annually for the immediate costs of child sexual abuse. The long-term expenses and losses attributable to child sexual abuse adds up to $35 billion annually.

Other than murder, child sexual abuse is the most expensive victim crime in the country. Research suggests that the average trained adult will better protect at least ten children from sexual abuse in the years after training.

"We have an opportunity to prevent abuse," said Lily Pad Executive Director Karen Kemp. "We can make a difference with this initiative."

Something that might make Dougherty stand out in terms of incidence rate may be the area's poverty rate, officials say.

"Poverty is a huge risk factor," said Amy Boney, director of the Firefly House. "Anybody that is disadvantaged due to poverty (suffers more from) this kind of abuse. And often, people don't report it quickly when abuse occurs."

Even so, this is not a problem unique to low-income areas.

"High class ranks often make it a family secret," Boney said.

The impact can be measured in ways beyond dollars and cents. Sixty percent of first teen pregnancies are preceded by an incident of child abuse. Young girls who are sexually abused are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders and/or substance abuse problems in adulthood than girls who are not sexually abused.

"One of the things we recognize is that the cost of prevention is less than dealing with the victims," said Kemp. "And, the cost to the family doesn't end there; sexual abuse causes many other problems. A sexual abuse problem becomes a societal problem."

Male survivors of child sexual abuse are 70 percent more likely to seek psychological treatment for issues such as substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide.

"Sexual abuse can be a deep problem that lasts a lifetime," said Bishop Victor Powell of Rhema Word Cathedral, who has gone through the training. "Some of these people you would not know it when you see them."

Those interested in receiving training on the initiative are encouraged to call the Lily Pad at (229) 435-0074.