We Get to Make a Difference

I have worked for Childhelp for 11 years, beginning as the therapist at the Childhelp Advocacy Center in Tennessee in 2000 and began serving as the Director in 2005. When I completed my Master’s degree in Social Work I was first employed as a therapist at Child & Family’s PASAAC (Project Against Sexual Abuse of Appalachian Children) and was first introduced to children and adults who had been victims of trauma. I found their resiliency and willingness to work on these very difficult issues rewarding and encouraging. I felt that if someone had the strength to survive trauma and be willing to examine it in treatment, that I could honor them by sitting with them, hearing their stories, and supporting them as they worked toward healing.

A typical day at the Center involves families arriving for a forensic interview, a forensic medical exam, or mental health treatment. We interact directly with the children and their families and provide them with a friendly, warm, accepting environment. Many days are chaotic and “messy”, but when families leave our building I know they have been respected, “heard”, and supported through a very difficult process. Surprisingly, there is laughter and smiles and very little negativity.

I was led to Childhelp by my participation on the CPIT team as a mental health provider in the community. The Director of Childhelp at that time invited me to apply for a position at Childhelp and I was delighted to have that opportunity. I think that what inspires to continue doing such emotionally taxing work is knowing that children are resilient, and that if we provide them and their families with new skills, support, and education, that their lives don’t necessarily need to be “ruined” forever. Children who are believed, loved, and protected can move forward from the trauma and I get to be a part of that happening. I get to hear children giggling down the hall, and I never take that for granted.

My role at the Center is more focused on supporting our multi-disciplinary team, the Child Protective Investigative Team (CPIT), which initiates and completes the full investigation from beginning to end. That team includes law enforcement officers, the District Attorney’s office, the TN Dept. of Children’s Services, Juvenile Court, our Childhelp Center team of two forensic interviewers, our mental health provider, myself as the Director, and a medical provider who performs the forensic medical exams.

I coordinate the case management/classification meetings where we decide the course of the investigation, safety issues for the child, plans for possible prosecution, and referral for medical examination and mental health treatment. I also do presentations for the community on abuse issues and responses and have been utilized by local media to comment on abuse cases in the area. I was appointed by the Commissioner of the TN Department of Children’s Services to the Joint Task Force on Children’s Justice/Child Sexual Abuse which makes legislative, protocol and procedural recommendations to improve the statewide response to the abuse of children.

The most difficult part of working here is the feeling of impotence when the “system” doesn’t work and “the bad guys” get away with hurting children or when the parents don’t believe the child, choosing their offender over their child. But we work as hard as we can to keep this from happening.

I would like to believe that the Center impacts the kids and their families in a very positive way – by ensuring that their needs are addressed, that they are treated with care and respect, that this part of a very bad life-experience alleviates some of the fear, worry, and shame that families often face. We get to make a difference on a daily basis.

Written by Pamela A. Dickey,
Director of the Childhelp Children’s Center of East Tennessee

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