Child abuse nonprofit raises funds for suicide prevention specialists

As counselors at the nonprofit Small Talk Children’s Advocacy Center on child abuse saw young people during the pandemic, they noticed something: A bewildering number were considering suicide.

Of all the children who received a forensic interview with the center last month, about half were referred for suicide prevention counseling during follow-ups. That’s up from just 5% before the pandemic, according to Alex Brace, therapist and executive director of the center.

Gradually, counselors began to assess the risk of suicide in children and adolescents during clinical visits to the center. These assessments have proven to be so valuable that staff have chosen to keep them permanently when they reopen for in-person counseling this summer.

“The need continues to grow,” Brace said. “It’s not even so much about sustaining what we have now. It’s about sustaining it and expanding it to meet the growing need for our communities.”

To do this, the center is creating two new full-time positions specializing in suicide prevention: a risk assessment advisor and a subsidized prevention specialist. The center has already raised $ 43,000 from an anonymous organization and local businesses for the risk assessment advisor, but needs an additional $ 11,000 to meet its goal of $ 54,000, a figure that will push it up. his annual fundraising goal of $ 250,000 to $ 300,000. (Public funding represents the remaining 55% of the centre’s budget.)

A LEGO sign for children in the waiting room of the Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 in Lansing.

It has been increasingly difficult for Small Talk to raise funds over the past two years as donations to nonprofits have declined, Brace said. Small Talk held its annual charity auction virtually in September amid concerns over COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

Increasingly, Small Talk has benefited from donations from small business owners like Megan Shannon, a Holt carpenter who recently auctioned off a handmade hickory box to benefit the charity.

Shannon was one of many to admire the centre’s approach to forensic interviews. Rather than a child interviewed multiple times – by police, prosecutors, child welfare services – children are only interviewed once at Small Talk. Counselors and law enforcement listen from another room, sometimes asking the interviewer questions.

The goal is to limit the number of times a child has to tell their story.

“Our hope is that … we can get the information we need without further traumatizing the child,” said Mike Cheltenham, deputy chief prosecutor for Ingham County. Before Small Talk, children were interviewed by police officers who may or may not have been trained forensic investigators, and interviews were often delayed so they could be conducted in another jurisdiction, he said.

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After Small Talk’s forensic interviews, staff consult with parents or caregivers on next steps, from free counseling at the center to identifying problems at home.

“Time and time again, parents don’t know what to do in these situations,” said Aubree Vance, director of forensic interviews and one of the centre’s two forensic investigators. Vance got involved with the association in 2015 after seeing its impact.

Alex Brace, executive director and therapist of the Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center, speaks from a conference room where officials can watch interviews of children in some cases on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, in Lansing.

Small Talk has an average of 250 cases per year in Ingham and Eaton counties.

Brace believes there may have been a spike in abuse in the pandemic era due to children being isolated from mandatory journalists – social workers, educators, law enforcement, law enforcement professionals. health and child care providers.

Cheltenham did not confirm an increase in child abuse during the pandemic, but said that “these concerns are (present) for all vulnerable populations living with their abusers. There is a feeling that, yes, there are cases where these things have increased “.

A group room at the Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 in Lansing.

Vance also predicts an increase in the number of calls a year or two after the pandemic ends, as reports of child abuse are often late disclosures.

Almost every 11 years of the centre’s operation, new positions have been added to meet the needs of the children, Brace said. As a local business owner once told him, “Once you know (about child abuse), you can’t ignore it. There is no going back. We need to keep growing in a way that makes sense to us. , but that we can also meet the needs of the children we serve, because that’s important. More important than ever. “

To report child abuse, call 911 or (855) 444-3911.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Crisis Text Line by sending TALK to 741741.

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344Where [email protected]. Follow her on twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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