Therapist tells club members how child abuse impacts our local communities
by Laura Johnson
Whitney O’Dell with the Calhoun-Cleburne Children’s Center brought the scope of the child abuse problem into perspective at a Jacksonville Exchange Club meeting last week.

According to O’Dell, a therapist at the center, it fielded 344 reported cases of child abuse from the two countries last year. Now in her 17th year of the center, the number of cases fielded at the center is what prompted her to pursue a master’s degree and become a therapist there.

“It was a shock,” she said of the first time she learned, almost two decades ago, of the number of cases that occur locally. Then O’Dell was helping the center transfer and convert hard copies into electronic files, meaning she personally saw each case processed by the center at that time.

Now a therapist at the center, O’Dell conducts forensic interviews with children who may have been abused. In one year’s time, on average, she and the center’s other therapist review between 350 and 400 cases each year.

“It’s a very safe environment for the children,” she told members of the Exchange Club Thursday.

The center has become instrumental in aiding child abuse victims and their non-offending family members. Before the center, children would sometimes have to recount the story of their abuse multiple times, prompting them to relive traumatic events, she said.

Now, children are able to speak once to O’Dell or another therapist, while other professionals and investigators reviewing the case listen in. They coordinate with law enforcement officials to minimize the psychological impact on the victim, she said.

The therapists are trained to ask children questions to get an accurate account of the abuse that may have occurred. That information can be used by investigators and prosecutors working on the case, O’Dell said.

The therapists are also trained to detect false reports, which sometimes occur, she said.  

The center is funded by personal donations and through grants, she said. The center also sells t-shirts for between $10 and $20 to raise money.

The Exchange Club has a history of working to prevent child abuse. Members in Jacksonville donated more than 200 stuffed animals and $2,000 to help the center with its mission.

After hearing O’Dell speak some members said they were more aware of how child abuse impacts local communities. They also learned, one said, how much of an asset the center is.

“We have a great advocate for children in this community,” Exchange Club member Sandra Sudduth said.
© 2013