Braveheart CAC cares for most vulnerable

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
A wall of hearts welcomes visitors to Braveheart's Cambridge facility
Braveheart director Jackie Diediker and MDT Coordinator Taylor Hager

On a quiet side street is one of the most unassuming buildings in Cambridge. Inside are some of the most heroic people you might ever meet.

Braveheart Children's Advocacy Center is a not for profit whose mission is to respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient – putting the needs of child victims first. They supply services to a five county area, including Henry, Bureau, Stark, Marshall and Putnam.

Director Jackie Diediker and MDT Coordinator Taylor Hager gave me a tour of the facility. Upon entering the front door, you are greeted with a wall full of hearts, done in all imaginable mediums. It is a bright inspiration for families who may be dealing with some of the darkest days of their lives.

There are several comfortable rooms where the real work goes on: A family living room with bright colors, child sized furniture, books and comfy looking sofas; a play area where children are encouraged to draw and color, and somehow along the way to heal; and a conference room with a large TV screen on the wall, that will help to share a child's story with necessary personnel.

Braveheart's team of professionals are committed to helping children who have been abused to tell their story in a safe, non-threatening, neutral environment. And then not need to tell it again. In the past, a child would need to tell the story up to 13 times, to various social workers, law enforcement personnel, court appointed advocates and medical staff. With the staff at Braveheart's help, that child will only need to tell the story one time..

The staff at Braveheart covers many facets of social work. A forensic interviewer is on staff who will talk to the child with a neutral and fact finding approach as well as an advocate and counselor.  Five people in the Cambridge location work with various agencies in law enforcement, judiciary, mental and physical health.

Clinician Johanna Hager is experienced with children who have experienced trauma and may have emotional or developmental delays. This is because of the abuse or neglect, the child's emotional or mental age may not match their chronological age. Statistics show that 80-90% of abused or neglected children know their offender. Persons who experienced abuse as children may carry this into their adult lives.

According to Diediker, between 40-50% of abuse cases are juvenile against juvenile. Kids are exposed to things they are unable to process. Often because of what they've seen or experienced, they will act out on them. With therapy they are given coping skills.

Abuse impacts entire families, not just the child. Braveheart will support the family as well, providing referrals to agencies that can help with protection orders, housing, basic needs, and try to give power back to the family. They will accompany the victims to court, providing support. They partner with organizations like Freedom House to provide safe situations for families in domestic danger.

In many cases the damage may be generational, with parents confused as to how to change behaviors that are ingrained. Mental health providers can assist with helping access the tools needed to break cycles of sexual, physical, drug or alcohol abuse. They can provide access to parenting classes.

The list of things that fall into the abuse category is broad and varied. Staff will deal with cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse, child pornography, human trafficking, sextortion, grooming and a myriad of other deviant behaviors. Hager is the Multi Disciplinary coordinator. She coordinates representatives from law enforcement, the states attorney, and various other agencies. Sometimes, in the performance of their duties, some of the partners find themselves overwhelmed with the magnitude of the job. It is Hager's job to assist them in finding a way to de-brief and cope with the more disturbing side of investigations. Diediker called Hager “The glue that sticks it together.”

It's recommended that parents be aware of the various types of predatory behavior used to target children. Parents need to be wary of social media and online presence that involve “Catfishing”. This generally involves boys and girls who are online, or approached via social media platforms by a predator who claims to be a girl. This “girl” will ask to be their friend, and from there start making requests, or demands on the boy.

Grooming is a process whereby a family member or friend develops an attachment to a child, seemingly innocent in the beginning, then increasingly more intimate with the intent to sexually abuse the child. This usually happens over a period of time.

Human trafficking exploits people for a variety of purposes. Children and young adults will be trafficked for purposes of sexual activity, or as slave labor in some cases. For more information on human trafficking, a program will be presented at the First Methodist Church in Geneseo on May 12, details in an article on this page.

One of the unique things about Braveheart, is that once a client, services will be available at all points in life, if that person should need them. If a child has been through therapy, and gone on, and finds in young adulthood, they are having troubles with relationships, or children, they can come back and therapeutic assistance will be possible, at no cost. This promise from the staff continues as long as the client feels need for them, through many phases of adulthood.

The clinic was able with the help of National Children's Alliance funds last year to obtain iPads with data sources to assist clients in making Telemental Health appointments. The number of missed sessions decreased significantly.

Braaveheart recently acquired a building near Freedom House in Princeton, to continue their work with clients in Bureau County, the second largest concentration of services in the five county area. This unique partnering expands the immediate availability of services to endangered families.

Funded wholly by grants and donations, one of the largest grant sources is VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), a federal program funded largely by fines collected from white collar and class action crimes. Recent years have seen the amount of fines decreased, and grants less accessible. The annual fundraiser for Braveheart was cancelled last year due to Covid, as well as for this year