With National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, it brings to light the fact that many do not realize the peril our children can experience and have to deal with right here in Northwest Florida. There are approximately 1,100 cases of child sexual and physical abuse reported annually in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, an average of three a day. Despite those big numbers, nearly 2/3 of the actual needs to help child victims go unmet due to lack of reporting to authorities.
Enter the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC). They provide services for young child abuse victims and their families in a child-friendly environment. All support services and personnel are under one roof. There are two centers, one in Niceville in Okaloosa County, and the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs in Walton County. Neither location provides housing for children. It is estimated that for every one child ECCAC helps, there are two children out there who are not helped.
Their Heartbreaking Stories:
…A 6-year-old sexually abused by the grandfather.
…A 12-year-old with severe burns that were getting no attention.
…The young child who witnessed one of their parents being brutally murdered.
These are but a few of the many children right here in the local community that have been helped by the Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center. ECCAC not only brings all organizations together so the judicial and healing process can be easier for the children who are victims of abandonment, abuse or neglect, it also provides mental health therapy for the children involved as well as their families.
In ECCAC’s 17-year history, right at 11,000 children have received more than 43,000 services at no cost to include mental health therapy, crisis intervention, referrals to other community providers, interviews and medicals. They raise 60% of their annual budget for the two centers through special events, donations and community-sponsored fundraisers. The remainder of monies are generated through grant requests and governmental funding.
Another major undertaking ECCAC is doing in the child abuse prevention effort, is their new program, Child Safety Matters, made possible by a grant from Impact 100. This is a state-wide initiative in elementary and middle schools. In the first five months in Okaloosa and Walton Counties alone, ECCAC has empowered 2,100 students and 2,000 relevant adults with information and strategies to prevent, recognize and respond appropriately.
Julie Hurst, ECCAC’s CEO commented, “Every year we try to create awareness of April being National Child Abuse Prevention month and the services that ECCAC can offer to child victims. It is imperative that everyone do their part to help protect children.”