How Liberty House fights against child abuse
Liberty House of Salem is the designated child advocacy center for Marion and Polk counties.
Despite the passage of the Karly Act of 2008 — named after a 3-year-old Corvallis girl who died after her abuse went unreported — child abuse is on the rise in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Social Services (ODHS) Child Protection Division, which operates the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline (ORCAH), says it has received more than 80,000 reports of abuse and neglect in 2021, up 8% from 2020.
Liberty House is the designated Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) for Marion and Polk counties – one of 22 CACs in Oregon and one of more than 900 nationwide. In honor of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, Keizer City Council invited representatives from Salem Liberty House to speak about their work and the challenges they face at the meeting of the Council of April 18.
“There are three key areas in what we do: clinical assessment, health and well-being – including mental health – and prevention,” Liberty House Deputy Executive Director Bruce Anderson said. “We also facilitate the multidisciplinary team established by law, which brings together Liberty House, County Child Protective Services, DHS, law enforcement and our district attorneys.
Anderson said the number of cases has increased at a high rate in recent years.
“We’ve seen a double-digit increase in our workload over the past two years – with rates more than 30% higher than they were in 2019,” he said.
Anderson’s numbers match what’s happened across the country over the past decade. According to a 2013 study by researchers at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center and published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, approximately one in 10 American children will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Anderson said Liberty House is uniquely equipped to meet this challenge.
“We’re helping children and families get the help they need with fewer appointments and more coordination — and our staff support families in English and Spanish,” he said. “We focus on the child, so the child – our patient – drives things, not us.”
He said they are staffed with medical professionals in a specially trained area of pediatrics who can do assessments of children from newborn to 18 years old in cases where abuse is suspected.
“Our staff are trained to identify the subtle aspects of child abuse that are sometimes overlooked,” he said.
Through its health and wellness program, Liberty House can help children cope with the trauma they have experienced. Anderson said the program can even help adults who were abused as children.
Liberty House Prevention Program Director Kyle Tarr also addressed the council, explaining the role of prevention and the philosophy behind their work.
“We use Darkness to Light as our core training,” Tarr said, referring to a nonprofit that sponsors research and education on child sexual abuse prevention. Darkness to Light funded the study cited above which determined that 1 in 10 American children suffer from abuse and provides tools to CACs nationwide.
“It is the only national program that has been shown to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change protective behaviors for children,” he said.
Tarr said Liberty House is focused on preventing not just sexual abuse, but also digital abuse — a growing problem among young people with ever-increasing access to social media. He said there are a number of ways people can get involved, starting with scheduling a free training session.
“Reach out and get in touch with us,” he said. “We can schedule up to five people per class.”
Liberty House works closely with local nonprofits and agencies, including CASA of Marion County. The Oregon Child Abuse Hotline is (855) 503-7233. You can learn more about Darkness to Light at d2l.org.