VOL. 123 | NO. 194 | Friday, October 3, 2008
Williams, Child Advocacy Center Give Voice to Children, Family
By Rosalind Guy
Position: Executive Director
Organization: Memphis Child Advocacy Center
“A child’s death by abuse diminishes all of us.”
– Nancy Williams
The workers at the Memphis Child Advocacy Center say to have one child die unnecessarily at the hands of an adult is beyond a travesty.
That’s why when news broke earlier this week that a 1-month-old baby died at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center, people at CAC waited to hear if it would be declared a homicide.
The medical examiner ultimately said it was not. But if it had been, the flag would once again fly at CAC to mark the death of another child.
The flag, which was created in 1998 by a 16-year-old student in Alameda County, Calif., has flown for 10 local children during the past 10 months.
In 2006 and 2007, there were five child homicides in Memphis.
Nancy Williams, CAC executive director, said a number of factors have led to the spike in child deaths in the Mid-South.
Those include people having children even though they are not equipped to care for them properly, teenage pregnancy and parents who leave their children with adults who prove unreliable.
“I don’t think these are reasons as much as circumstances…” Williams said. “And when you step back and look at these you think if you had a diamond ring and you needed to store it somewhere, would you just hand it to anybody who happened to be in the neighborhood who you just met and say, ‘Keep this for me?’ You wouldn’t do that.”
While the CAC doesn’t directly tackle issues that contribute to the deaths of children, it has taken on an advocacy role to get people thinking about what they can do to help prevent those deaths.
Though the flag has a simple design – red with blue paper dolls across it except the middle one that is missing – the message it conveys is enormous.
“A child’s death by abuse diminishes all of us,” Williams said.
Williams said she hopes the flag raisings, along with other advocacy efforts by the center, get people thinking about things they can do to positively impact the life of a child.
“We thought, with our location here on Poplar (Avenue), people can see this and ask themselves, ‘What can I do? Could I check on a child in my neighborhood? Could I mentor a young man whose girlfriend is expecting a baby? Or could I mentor a 15- or 16-year-old who’s going to have a baby?’”
Center of advocacy
Williams joined the CAC nearly 15 years ago because she was attracted to the model it offers parents and children whose lives have been affected by sexual abuse, which is the center’s main focus.
The model takes all the key players – therapists, investigators, prosecutors and family advocates – involved in dealing with the sexual abuse of a child and houses them in one location.
“The CAC’s two roles are to create an environment where the professionals do their best work and to provide the support to a child and their family during a very traumatic time,” Williams said.
The CAC provides direct services such as therapy to children and families affected by childhood sexual abuse. Staff members also speak out for children, demanding that adults take responsibility for them.
“We certainly see the things that often bring children to the attention of the Department of Children Services or law enforcement,” Williams said. “In particular, we are the ones who assist families when a child has been sexually abused. That’s our direct service.
“But our advocacy extends beyond that.”