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“I think people find it very shocking that one in ten children in their lifetime will experience child abuse in some form by the time they reach age 18,” said Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance. “And for us, to think about the fact that there are more than 300,000 children that [come through] the door of a Children’s Advocacy Center or Children’s Justice Center every year is a shocking number.”
Huizar presented the alliance’s National Philanthropy Leadership Award to Sister Joy D. Jones, general president of the Primary organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during a reception at the organization’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., Sunday, June 4, 2017.
“We are concerned about children all over the world, and we can’t do that alone,” said Sister Jones, who accepted the award on behalf of the Church for its efforts to protect children and assist victims of child abuse. The Primary represents more than 1 million children worldwide.
The alliance said the Church was chosen “for its compassionate, committed leadership among communities of faith as a national philanthropic partner of the National Children’s Alliance and the Children’s Advocacy Center movement, in addition to its long-standing support for Utah Children’s Justice Centers.”
The National Children’s Alliance is affiliated with the Children’s Justice Center (CJC) program in Utah.
“[The award] speaks volumes of the Church’s love for children,” said Sister Jones. “This is a delightful honor for the Church to receive this award, but our commitment continues. We have much work to do, and this is really only the beginning.”
For the past several years, Mormons have provided assistance to child abuse prevention organizations, including the National Children’s Alliance. Huizar visited Temple Square last year and met with Sister Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, where she received a donation from the Church for the alliance. Sister Oscarson also presented a donation to Utah’s Children’s Justice Centers.
In April, Sister Jones and women leaders of the Church’s Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations toured the South Valley Children’s Justice Center (CJC) in West Jordan, Utah, and delivered a check for $120,000 for needed medical supplies for child abuse victims at eight CJC locations around the state. Two years ago, Church leaders visited the CJC in Salt Lake City and provided a donation to the CJCs in Utah.
“I think that faith communities have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of protecting children because families and communities really listen to them and turn to them for support and guidance,” added Huizar.
Policies to safeguard children in the Church have been around for many years. The Church has resources to help children who have been abused, including a 24-hour hotline that can put leaders in touch with a counselor. Safeguards have also been implemented in the Church’s youth programs, including a requirement to have two leaders present during activities.
“When we heard the news that [the Church was] being acknowledged and the generosity and the partnership, it was professionally thrilling to see that connection made with the work that happens day in and day out, and then the commitment from a major religious organization,” said Tom King, executive director of the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance.
“It is an example that we can turn to,” continued King. “Although it sounds trite, we’d all love to be out of a job.”
Susanne Mitchell, director of the Salt Lake County Children’s Justice Center, was also honored at the National Children’s Alliance reception with the Horowitz-Barker Lifetime Achievement Award for her decades of leadership and service within the CJC movement.
“The need is greater than anyone realizes,” said Tracey Tabet, administrator of the Utah Children’s Justice Center program, who nominated the Church for the award. “If you ask any child abuse professional, they will tell you that our caseloads just represent the tip of the iceberg because we know child abuse is a drastically underreported crime.”
About Children’s Justice Centers
Children’s Justice Centers or Children’s Advocacy Centers are places where families can access resources such as counseling, information about legal services, law enforcement support and information to help them overcome abuse. There are nearly 800 children’s advocacy centers in the U.S. The centers also offer medical exams, providing important information to law enforcement and child and family services workers.
Utah opened its first Children’s Justice Center in Salt Lake County more than 25 years ago. The Utah Legislature granted administrative authority of the center to the Utah Attorney General’s Office in 1994. There are currently more than 20 locations statewide that assist 5,500 child victims every year.
The program assists with investigations involving sexual abuse, physical abuse, child homicide, domestic violence related child abuse, abductions and shaken baby syndrome.
Tabet explained, “We all do bear a responsibility in ensuring that children are safe and if they are harmed, that we are all there to wrap our arms around them and help them through whatever they’ve been through and help them on that path to healing.”