When Jerry Sandusky was tried and convicted in 2012 the world was appalled that the sexual abuse had taken place and even more so that the perpetrator of the sexual abuse was such a “well-liked and influential person” in the lives of those young boys. In sexual abuse of children, that is usually the case.

It would be nice to think that this isn’t an issue in our NC Mountains but the news media has recently shared stories of convictions throughout western NC. These cases as in the Sandusky case were perpetrated by uncles, stepparents, siblings, other children, babysitters, trusted friends and even parents.

It has been found that a cohesive network that works to prevent, identify, investigate, support victims, and prosecute the perpetrator is very effective in dealing with abuse of children. In order to convict the perpetrator, all of the agencies involved must work together. The owners of Shared Vision Consulting in Waynesville have a passion for child victims of sexual abuse and in seeing justice provided. David Hutchinson, one of the partners was instrumental in developing this very type of collaboration in Florida, a sexual abuse intervention network (SAIN). A year ago the Evergreen foundation provided Shared Vision Consulting a small grant to bring together some of these key agencies to look at what was presently in place in WNC.

“We had a seven county meeting to explore what we have and what we thought was needed. Participants in the meeting included representatives from Jackson and Swain Departments of Social Services, Macon County Child Advocacy Center, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Tribal Courts (Prosecutor and Attorney General), 30th District Probation and Parole, Meridian Behavioral Health, Smoky Mountain LME, NC Prevent Child Abuse, NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Evergreen Foundation. The participants expressed a willingness to move forward with planning for a system-wide, regional approach to this issue, which resulted in the current grant award.” shared Patti Long, the other partner in Shared Vision Consulting.

The group agreed that although there are many positive efforts in WNC, a clearer picture of those efforts and the needs of our counties in responding to child sexual abuse would be helpful. Based on this recommendation, Long requested additional funding from the Evergreen Foundation.

“The Evergreen Foundation’s commitment to the health and well-being of children in WNC led them to provide the funding to look more closely at available resources and the response to child sexual abuse in our seven counties. The idea is that by identifying the needs and gaps, we can leverage additional funding, through collaboration, to better meet those needs,” commented Long.

Although all counties are covered by the same district court system, most of the other services are through individual counties or municipalities.  The study, not yet completed, has found that all of the counties except one have access to a child advocacy centers, all have responsive DSS child protective services, most have a “multi-disciplinary” team that looks at specific cases, and while some law enforcement agencies have excellent training and expertise in dealing with child sexual abuse, others would welcome additional training and personnel.

“Additional training and personnel are two areas that have surfaced as needs for several agencies. We are hoping that through these efforts we can look at ways of creating partnerships to share the resources that we have and also be able, through these partnerships, to get grant funding to support  a regional response that will improve our prevention and intervention in child sexual abuse throughout  WNC” concluded Long.

To find out more about Shared Vision Consulting and their efforts contact Patti Long at 828-508-2256.

The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and/or substance abuse needs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. To learn more about the Evergreen Foundation call 828-456-8005.