Child Enrichment, Inc. has been serving abused and neglected children in the CSRA for 40 years. We could not think of a better time to sit down with the executive director, Dan Hillman, than during Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Brad Means: Dan Hillman is joining us once again. Dan Hillman is the Executive Director of Child Enrichment. And we talk about, Dan, leaving people on an upbeat note, a lot of times, what you deal with is the opposite of upbeat. How have things been going since we last talked, at Child Enrichment? Busy, I guess?
Dan Hillman: Hi Brad. Yeah, thanks for having me. Child Enrichment has been serving local abused children since 1978, so this is our 40th anniversary.
Brad Means: Well.
Dan Hillman: We do lift people up. Because we save children’s lives at times, and we certainly put children in better situations. I talked to you earlier about 903 children being served just last year. And it takes a lot of people to do that. Not just our employees. So, today we have over 300 children we’re serving. 268 of them within the CASA program.
Brad Means: Tell me what you mean when you say, “serving the children.” How do they come to you, for the most part? And what do you do with these children and their families when they knock on the door?
Dan Hillman: Right. We primarily serve Burke, Columbia, and Richmond Counties. And children get to us three primary ways: Juvenile court judges, law enforcement, and the Department of Family and Children’s Services, their Child Protective Services. So, children who are deemed deprived, or abused and maybe have been removed from their parents. Those are almost always referred to our CASA program. Which is Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Brad Means: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about CASA’s role in just a moment. Okay, so they come to you, you put them up for the night, for the week?
Dan Hillman: No. No residential programs any longer. Child Enrichment did start as an emergency shelter and was one between 1978 and 2007. Georgia changed the focus on how they were dealing with foster children, as did many states. So Georgia, between 2005 and 2007, moved away from residential programs and 385 youth-serving residential programs closed and we suspended our shelter operation on February 7, 2007. It was a really difficult time.
Brad Means: Well the need is there, so where do they go now once they leave you?
Dan Hillman: Well the, I think, the reason is that was a huge amount of money for all states, as they were paying a per diem for every resident, every child that was placed. And they emphasized placement with relatives. And they had always had foster homes and foster care, and we still recruit foster homes, but they also stretched it. The placement options included fictive kin, or kinship care. When you’re reading the literature about children being placed, you’ll hear those two terms. And at first, I was pretty skeptical about it, but–
Brad Means: Well, it seems like the abuser could get to them easier if they’re at a relative’s house.
Dan Hillman: Well, actually what we find is the fictive kin is somebody that already had a relationship with the child. A Sunday school teacher, a teacher, a neighbor, and they cared for the kid, and sometimes those people are more protective than the biological parents.
Brad Means: Alright, so short term, you can get a roof over their head that’s not an abusive environment. Long term, how do you help them stay safe?
Dan Hillman: – Yeah, our goal for CASA is that every employee and volunteer promises to stay involved with each child or sibling group until they have safe, permanent home. And those are the key, safe and permanent homes through adoption, permanent placement, guardianship. 50% of the children placed in Georgia through the foster care program are placed with grandparents. Today, actually it was yesterday, the statistic, I checked it. 14,600 children in foster care in Georgia, as of yesterday.
Brad Means: Foster parents get paid?
Dan Hillman: Some, yes. Some don’t.
Brad Means: Let me ask you this. What’s the threshold for child abuse? I see some stuff in Walmart that raises an eyebrow or two every now and then. Should I call you?
Dan Hillman: No. If you wanna report child abuse, you need to call the hotline for Georgia. Or law enforcement. If you observe or suspect physical or sexual abuse, make the call. Calls can be anonymous. And you’re reaching out to protect a child. Now, we all know that parenting is difficult and parents lose, you know–
Brad Means: It’s stressful.
Dan Hillman: Yeah. And it’s– kids will challenge you. We know it. Sure. So spanking is not a reason to call. But, if you see someone grabbing a child around the throat, or hitting them with an instrument, those are automatic reports.
Brad Means: Talk a little bit more about your relationship with the court system. This goes back to the focus on CASA. As you escort these youngsters and their families through the court system, how helpful are the judges and their teams in getting these kids in the right place?
Dan Hillman: In the Augusta Judicial Circuit, we have three judges and I think you’ve interviewed one recently, Douglas Flanagan.
Brad Means: Sure.
Dan Hillman: And then we have Jennifer McKinsey and we have Amanda Heath. They are fantastic. Not only do they deal with the areas deprived, neglected and abused children, they also deal with children who have delinquent behavior or aggressive and violent behavior. So, their jobs are extremely difficult. But, everyone of those children that came through CASA came through one of those three judges. And they’re the ones we report to. They trust CASA to make a comprehensive assessment of where the child is being placed, or has been placed. Is it safe? You know, what’s in the refrigerator? What’s under the beds? Are there any dangers there? Are the people who they’re being placed with capable of raising them and making sure that they go to school? Their medical, dental, therapy appointments are all kept. So, that’s what CASA does. We are the eyes and ears for the judge, but we are the advocate for the child.
Brad Means: Speaking of advocacy, what can Child Enrichment do when it comes to therapy? When it comes to helping that child get right?
Dan Hillman: Most of the therapy, when you talk about Child Enrichment, is gonna be done through our other program, which is the Child Advocacy Center. There are CASA programs and Child Advocacy Centers throughout Georgia. Not every county has one. So, our Child Advocacy Center was established in 1986. We served 471 children last year, and almost all of them were sexually abused. And sexual abuse is an epidemic that I talk about and it’s a very uncomfortable topic for people to hear, but it needs to be talked about.
Brad Means: Yeah.
– Dan Hillman: So, Child Advocacy Centers specialize in the assessment of children suspected of having been sexually abused. We have three therapists in that program and, you know, all services by Child Enrichment are free of charge. An interesting step happened within the last year. December 1st we opened an office in Thomson, Georgia, two days a week, because we had been seeing so many children there and conducting forensic interviews.
Brad Means: Well, and just since December, you’ve seen a lot of people use that service, haven’t you?
Dan Hillman: Oh, absolutely.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Dan Hillman: We were estimating we would probably see 100 for the first year, but it’s probably gonna be well over that. It’s a big Circuit. There are six counties in the Toombs Judicial Circuit, so we’re trying to serve those. The reason we did that step is we were doing the interviews and helping assess whether or not children were sexually abused, and if there was an alleged perpetrator that could be brought, you know, to court. But the kids weren’t able to come, the parents or whatever limitations they had, weren’t able to bring them to Augusta for the therapy services. So, we wanted to have the full complement of services available there.
Brad Means: Let me ask you a couple of quick questions. First of all, it’s the fear factor that some people may have when it comes to reporting child abuse, child sexual abuse.
Dan Hillman: Oh, absolutely.
Brad Means: What would you say to them, as far as an assurance, I guess what, more specifically I’m asking is how soon after I make that phone call, and file that report with you, can you get law enforcement involved, the courts involved, so I feel that there will be no repercussions against me and the child will be firmly and permanently, perhaps removed from the environment. Is that a pretty fast process?
Dan Hillman: Yes and no. Yeah. The greater risk to the child, it’s extremely quick. It can be within 24 hours. It actually can be within hours.
Brad Means: I would hope so.
Dan Hillman: Yeah. In fact, when Child Enrichment employees make a report of suspected abuse, we call both the Georgia hotline and the law enforcement entity in the area where the alleged abuse occurred. So we do both, and then they work together. So, let’s say someone reports an alleged sexual abuse of a child today. At school maybe. And so they make the report to the Georgia hotline and law enforcement, if notified, will go right then. And then they will have a brief conversation with the person making the report. Immediately, a forensic interview is scheduled at Child Enrichment. Child Enrichment is the entity within the child abuse protocol for all those Judicial Circuits. We are the interviewing entity. So, law enforcement, medical providers, social workers, they don’t interview the child. They can get some basic information, but the true forensic interview occurs at Child Enrichment. And that is digitally recorded. And we did 433 of those last year.
Brad Means: How can people help with your Clothing Closet? A lot of spring cleaning going on. And that’s, we talk about fundraising for Child Enrichment a lot, and we want that to continue, but what about the Clothing Closet? Just bring our stuff to you?
Dan Hillman: I have clothing in the back of my vehicle right now–
Brad Means: Do you really?
Dan Hillman: I’m delivering after this.
Brad Means: All sizes?
Dan Hillman: It’s for two children, yep. And so–
Brad Means: No, I mean but you’ll accept all sizes?
Dan Hillman: Oh, the key is any used clothing that is not worn out, we will accept. We need boys’ jeans and boys’ teenage-sized clothing, more than any other. We purchase new underwear and socks, so please don’t donate those. But everything from shorts, dresses, tops, jackets we will make sure they get to a great place. And the point on the Clothing Closet is that it’s not an employee-driven program. We have seven women who coordinate the Clothing Closet and have done so since the emergency shelter closed in 2007. They have run this clothing operation out of that facility. And just last year, they provided five complete outfits to 633 different children.
Brad Means: Well–
Dan Hillman: They also help with churches in the area. Mission trips. And they’re always out there, doing their own recruitment of not only socks and underwear, new socks and underwear, but they have partnered with other clubs who make cloth bags for the children. Because we really didn’t like the idea of delivering clothing to a child in a garbage bag, but that was what was happening. And we can do it when you have to, but giving children clothing is pretty rewarding.
Brad Means: Yeah. I mean think about it, it gives them the confidence to be able to walk in school and look good.
Dan Hillman: Go to school, right.
Brad Means: Dan Hillman, Executive Director of Child Enrichment. It’s busy over there, unfortunately. But fortunately it’s busy because people are trying to do their part to help these kids. And I thank you very much.
Dan Hillman: Thank you, Brad.
Brad Means: Absolutely. Support Child Enrichment, won’t you? Whether you want to donate, volunteer, and most certainly, report. 706-737-4631 is their phone number. There, you see the address. Don’t wait. You heard Dan talk about how quickly the intervention can start to unfold. Make the call. And help them out too, big time.