HARRISON – On the evening of Oct. 12, the Northern Michigan Alliance for Children, an organization dedicated to providing advocacy and support for abused children and their families, saw another of its dreams come to fruition. That is when the NMAC Center for Hope and Healing was officially launched with a grand opening, complete and ribbon cutting ceremony. Not surprisingly, this event was well attended despite some damp fall weather.
The new center was established with funds from the Victims of Crime Act, wherein federal money passed down to the state level specifically for child abuse centers.
Bethany Law, NMAC director and co-founder, welcomed attendees and provided a brief timeline history of the organization, and explained the need and importance of offering support during the legal process as well as after-care services. She then described how the Center for Hope and Healing came to be.
“This is really the work of primarily two employees who have made this program what it is.” Law said. “Lots of work – six to 12 months of solid research and dedication to this cause.”
Law spoke of NMAC’s belief in listening to what employees say about the needs they see in the community and how that led to prioritizing the accessibility of reliable mental health training.
“Thanks to the Victims of Crime Act, local community foundations and donations that many of you have contributed at our galas, we’ve been able to open this site,” she said. “This, too, was the dream of one of our interns who became our employee, and who is now our crisis counselor: Erianna DeKalita-Mull. She’s worked super, super hard on the program.
“We recently brought on Mandy Wigren, who is a limited license professional counselor, and is now our victims services coordinator. She’s overseeing the programing at both our Child Advocacy Center and here at the Center for Hope and Healing.”
Law told attendees that COVID had put a real damper on the program, and described how difficult it was for a group of social workers – people who like to help people – to get through the past six months with a positive outlook and a feeling they were still making a difference for the community.
Law said that oftentimes intervention services have been provided at the time of the investigation, but that by the time a family could leave the center, they would either not be in crisis, not see a need for mental health services, be screened out by one of the advocacy center’s partners for inability to pay, or there would be a long wait list for partner mental health agencies. The new site will help level that see-saw journey by providing continuity of service.
“We wanted to make sure the kids would have that sort of ‘one-stop-shop’ – that continued care,” Law said. “And they can keep in touch with our organization throughout the court process.”
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will be provided by DeKalita-Mull who has a master’s degree in social work and will be working mainly with the younger children in her office. Services also will be provided for adolescents and any adults in the families.
“Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is set up to be a family program,” Law said. “It’s not to cater just to the children or to the family itself. Hopefully, we’ll be able to support them at all levels.”
DeKalita-Mull explained that the idea for the Center for Hope and Healing “arrived with her” [as an intern] but that the concept and plans really began to take shape in early fall of 2019.
The need for this site is unquestioned, as borne out by the Child Advocacy Center data. Some facts: 1-in-10 children will be sexually abused before age 18; 93% of perpetrators are known and trusted by the child; and 65% of child victims of abuse will experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Last year we forensically interviewed around 250 [clients],” DeKalita-Mull said. “I don’t expect we’ll get the same kind of numbers here, but it is an option for all of those people to have that. We’re still working with Community Mental Health and Listening Ear Shelter House – all of our mental health partners.”
Law explained that DeKalita-Mull is starting out at 15 clients and will have a maximum caseload of 25. She added that Wigren can also serve as a counselor, if needed.
The most important thing one can do for child victims of abuse is to seek out help, and that starts with getting answers. Contact the NMAC Center for Hope and Healing by mail at P.O. Box 225, 498 N. Clare Ave., Harrison, MI 48625; at www.mikids.org or call 989-544-1103. They are also on social media @NMACkids.