SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — Protecting children is an important job. Safe Harbor Advocacy Center of the Smokies does just that. It serves as the central hub of investigative efforts into alleged incidents of child abuse or neglect.
The goal is to make the process gentler and less traumatic for children who have suffered so much. They provide crisis counseling, court support and prevention education.
They launched a new campaign to raise money to meet the growing demand for their services. Safe Harbor has seen a 150 percent increase in children who need their specialized therapy. Through this campaign they're working to meet the demand for their programs that serve child victims of sexual and physical abuse and exploitation.
The spike in children with mental health needs as a result of such abuse isn't a direct offset of the pandemic but Safe Harbor executive director Maggie McNalley said it certainly contributes.
“We've had a huge increase in our wait list so this campaign is directly addressing that issue," McNalley said. "The kids that come to us have been severely abused, sometimes sexually abused, exploited."
"When you add to it you know, stay at home orders and trying to do virtual school and just all the different family dynamics, you know, lack of work. Just all of those issues complicate situations that are already complex," she said.
Melissa Rose specializes in children's mental health and said a child's mental health shouldn't be overlooked with a 'they'll be alright’ mentality.
"As a parent if we consider, 'okay what would I need if I went through something like this. What would I need in order to heal and feel better,' and a lot of times the answer is, 'well I need to talk about it," Rose said.
Local mother Beverly takes her two kids to see therapists at Safe Harbor. They were both assaulted by the same person she said.
"She had horrible nightmares, meltdowns over the littlest things and I was mentioning to the guidance counselor at her school and she suggested that we come here,“ Beverly said.
After two years of therapy Safe Harbor made a difference in her daughter’s life she said. "She has a love for her sports again. No more meltdowns. She's gone away to camp without us for a whole week."
The trauma severely impacted her son too she said. He continues to work through it with his Safe Harbor therapist. "He kind of depends on her to hear him out," she said.
"They both ended up with exactly who they needed to get through the things that they were dealing with," she said.