Last year, there were 600 total cases of child abuse reported in Warren and Van Buren counties, including 245 children who were verified as being victims of severe abuse.
Those were sobering statistics provided Friday night by Children’s Advocacy Center executive director Martha Phillips during the organization’s 7th annual Autumn Fest.
“Every hour of every day, there are allegations of child abuse,” said Phillips. “Five children die nationwide as a result of abuse or neglect each day. In an average year, we serve around 200 children with severe child abuse. We only work with severe cases -- severe physical, anything sexual, drug endangered.”
Autumn Fest was held at Deer Path Farms. The evening included food, a benefit silent auction, and music by Thunder Creek. The event grows every year and about 185 people attended this year.
Lisa Zavogiannis, president of the CAC board of directors and District Attorney General for the 31st Judicial District, delivered an emotional speech about her experience with the tragic story of Cheyenne Delp, a child who suffered horrific abuse and whose guardian, Sherri Mathis, was convicted of her murder. When the child and her brothers were placed into the custody of Mathis, Zavogiannis was a new attorney working in the juvenile court system and was appointed guardian ad litem of the family, so she had a personal connection to the case.
Zavogiannis said, “Because of Cheyenne and the pain she suffered, we want to make sure the community stays aware of child abuse because so many keep silent. In response to the verdict in the Mathis case, a public forum was held titled ‘Not One More.’ It was developed in an effort to educate the public on what child abuse is, how to report it, how to recognize it, and what the long-term effects of child abuse are. The title ‘Not One More’ refers to the dream we have there will never have to be another Cheyenne Delp. That would be our goal.”
Zavogiannis added, “It should never be the child’s responsibility to protect themselves from abuse at the hands of an adult. It’s our job, yours and mine, to make ourselves responsible for the innocent children who surround us. Take this responsibility seriously. Let’s make this community a safe environment for our children to live in. We all know we are here tonight because we do care about our children. That’s why we’re here.”
At $100 a person, Autumn Fest helps to generate money needed to address child abuse.
Says Phillips, “This is our major fundraiser of the year. All of the direct services we provide are free of charge. We have to rely on the generosity of others. The funds we raise tonight help offset some of our operating expenses that we can’t get funding through other sources. We come together in a fun, relaxed evening to try to draw the community in and make them understand why it’s so important to know the signs of abuse and how to prevent it and ask them to make those phone calls if they have a suspicion.”
For more information on the Children’s Advocacy Center of the 31st Judicial District, or to find out how to make a donation, call 931-507-2386 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.