In her role as a child advocate, Lisa Donahue of rural Lincolnville hears firsthand the stories of children who have been abused either physically, sexually, emotionally, or in neglect.
“I’ve spent most of my adult life in service-oriented jobs,” Donahue said. “I think sometimes my job affects me when I don’t realize it, like when something emotional happens on a personal level, and I feel the tears starting.”
She worked with domestic violence victims before joining Heart to Heart Child Advocacy Center about one year ago. It has offices in Newton and McPherson.
Donahue is one of two employees who are specially trained to interview and advocate for abused children referred to them from McPherson, Marion, and Harvey counties.
She said Marion County reported 20 cases of child abuse in 2016. Most of the children were in the 9-to-12-year-old range.
Donahue was trained not to use leading questions when she interviews a child. It’s called forensic interviewing. The interviewer is objective, and the interview is recorded or carefully documented.
“At some level you have to be emotionally involved or, at least for me, I wouldn’t be able to provide the services needed,” she said.
She befriends the child and tries to make him or her feel comfortable. The child gets a stuffed animal.
“We want the child to tell us what happened,” she said.
The other employee, an advocate, is assigned to follow up with the non-offending family member and child. The advocate encourages parents to seek counseling for the child to initiate the healing process.
Sometimes Donahue plays the role of advocate, and the other employee is the interviewer.
These events evoke various emotions, including sadness and helplessness.
“At the end of the day, I think I feel anger more than sadness,” she said. “Anger that more can’t be done to help children and that laws limit what courts and law enforcement can do. Also, that communities, individuals, and sometimes parents themselves aren’t willing to accept what’s happening right in front of them and reach out for help.”
She said sometimes a particular situation affects her more than others. On her drive home, she turns up the music and tries to let go or she calls everyone she can think of to find some extra support for the child and family.
“I know one of the most important things for me is that I do everything I can to provide resources for the child and non-offending family members to heal and move forward,” she said.
Heart to Heart provides information about how people can help protect kids:
- Teach them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touches.
- Teach them to stand up for themselves, how to say “NO!,” and when to flee.
- Let them know who they can turn to in times of danger.
- Know the childcare provider.
Most referrals to Heart to Heart come from law enforcement, Donahue said. Teachers, doctors, and dentists are mandated to report signs of child abuse. These include:
- A personality change
- Lack of appetite
- Unusual problems at school
- Disruptive sleep
- Fear of being left alone
- Fear and worrying behavior
- Unexplained nausea, aches, and pains
- Sexual language or knowledge
- Low self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Fears and phobias
- Hostility or aggression
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 911, the Kansas Protection Report Center at (800) 922-5330, or local police or a sheriff’s department.