As Program Director of the Washtenaw Child Advocacy Center, Cathi Kelley is dedicated to helping kids. It’s more than just a job. In grad school, certain she wanted to support family preservation, she focused her efforts and has now served in the social services industry for nearly two decades.
Five years ago, Cathi Kelley began working at the Washtenaw Child Advocacy Center (WCAC), a program administered by Catholic Social Services. She explains that the center “came about as a result of people realizing that children who have experienced sexual abuse were often not getting their needs met. Many of these kids were interviewed at multiple sites and often weren’t offered the access to services, such as crisis counseling, that they needed. The advocacy center was designed to provide services for a child, non-offending caregivers and family
members at one site.” She recalls, “when we started, we were very fortunate to have a number of people from the community donate time and effort to help pull this center together.”
The WCAC was developed through a “collaborative effort on the part of a number of different community entities that include the law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County, including Michigan State Police, the Prosecutor’s Offi ce, The Department of Human Services, Community Support and Treatment Services, and the University of Michigan’s Child Protection Team.”
Located in Ypsilanti, the WCAC’s main purpose is to provide a safe environment and to serve the needs of children through age 17 who have reportedly experienced sexual abuse. The advocacy center provides crisis counseling, interviews, exams and long-term therapy asneeded, as well as body safety and prevention education. “There are just a lot of barriers if families don’t have one place to do all these things,” Kelley says. Located in a county building with access to ample parking and the bus line, the facility is easy to get to, “more familiar and more friendly.”
The center relies on a caring staff, volunteers and the fi nancial backing of multiple agencies, grants and donations to keep it operating. This includes: federal funds from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA); the National Children’s Alliance; the Washtenaw County Children’s Well-Being Fund; and “additional grant monies that come in from private foundations in the Washtenaw County area.”
The WCAC is one of two centers in the state to be awarded a program expansion grant from the National Children’s Alliance in 2010. The funds enabled the center to provide trauma-focused therapy to kids beyond the initial counseling stage. “All of our services are free,” Kelley emphasizes, “there is no charge to a child or a family. Before the advocacy center was here, funding was a huge issue for a lot of people.”
Child advocacy is important to Kelley; “I would hope that by working closely with the different community partners, that we have been able to provide a child-friendly, family-friendly place where children who’ve been sexually abused are able to receive the help and services that they need.”
Prevention and education
Prevention education and body safety classes are also key offerings. “We often talk with parents who have questions about some of their child’s behaviors. We are more than happy to meet with parents, to talk with them on the phone and to help them understand what is normal behavior and what behaviors might be some cause for concern,” says Kelley. She also wants to let more “parents know that we’re here. One of my concerns is that people only become aware of us when there’s a serious problem.”
Child safety and education is vital, and Kelley says, “We work a lot with parents around supervision. One of my concerns is that as a society we’re often saying to kids ‘just say no.’ Kids have a hard time saying no to authority fi gures. Ultimately the responsibility for children’s safety depends on the adults in their lives. It is up to parents, adults and teachers to make sure that kids and teens are safe.” She adds that they plan to increase community education and awareness programs in the next year.
The goal is to provide the best possible care for children who need it in an environment that is safe and accessible. Kelley speaks sincerely and hopes to “encourage parents to call if they have questions about child safety, abuse or behavior,” and to remind them, “We really are here for the community.”
Director Cathi Kelley, LMSW, Washtenaw Child Advocacy Center, 555 Towner, Ypsilanti, 734-544-2925, www.washtenawcac.org” Hours: M-F 8:30am – 5 pm.