By Gari Voss
Since the 1980s, various programs have been designed to help children understand situations when they do not feel comfortable, and what to do in response to those feelings. Some children have felt empowered to seek assistance while more adults have received training in recognizing
signs of child abuse, but the data indicates that cases of child abuse and neglect have been rising. That is, until 2020. So, what can be done to ensure that children do not lose their childhood?
The Associated Press did an analysis of state data nationwide which indicated that in the 36 of 50 states participating, reports of child abuse and neglect had been increasing until 2020. Michigan alone reported that 119,717 referrals were made by mandated reporters and 51,671 cases made by non-mandated reporters. Of those cases, 67,366 from the mandated reporters and 28,701 from non-mandated reporters were assigned for investigation.
A study by the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) found that from 2010 to 2018, “the number of children in families investigated for abuse or neglect increased in 81 of 83 counties and increased by 71.8% statewide. The number of confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect increased by 33.7% statewide and 64 counties in the state saw an increase. In addition, 51 counties saw an increase in children in out-of-home care which equated to an increase of 3.7% statewide.”
One reason for the increase may be contributed to the fact that children and mandated reporting adults have been more proactive at reporting situations where children seem to be in danger. Therefore, suspected abuse is being reported and can be investigated.
What is worrisome is the 2020 drop in cases. Children staying at home 24/7 do not come in contact with adults who recognize changes in emotions or shared conversations. Children do not spend time in safe spaces where they trust adults. The social isolation along with increased financial hardship and stress have reduced reporting.
Consequently, states have reported that more severe, substantiated cases have been uncovered with serious physical and emotional ramifications to children and other family members. By the time some cases are reported, it is because of hospitalization or even death.
At one time, child abuse and neglect was linked to lower socio-economic households, but that is no longer the case. Overall, instances of abuse are related to biological relatives and family friends.
To break the cycle of abuse and neglect, organizations such as Safe Harbor in Allegan and Barry Counties provide the lifeline that children and their families need. Executive Director Lori Antkoviak explained, “The Safe Harbor Safe Kids Body Safety program provides age appropriate information to protect children from preschool through middle school from abuse. This includes information about safe and unsafe touches, how to identify a trusted adult to ‘talk’ about unsafe touches, bullying prevention, and online safety.”
Antkoviak cited, “1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted by the time they reach the age of 18. According to the FBI, 1 in 5 children who touch a digital device will be sexually solicited online. During 2020, almost 200 Allegan County children shared their story of sexual or severe physical abuse through a forensic interview at Safe Harbor.”
“According to Kids Count Data for 2020, 512 children in Allegan County were confirmed through investigations as child abuse and neglect victims. Children need to know that they have a right to not be sexually abused and to learn that there are adults who can help them.” The Safe Harbor Safe Kids program gives younger children a body safety coloring book with body safety rules and a bookmark to identify safe adults. Older children are given a plastic bracelet with a QR code to the Safe Harbor Safe Kids webpage reminding them of body safety and the bookmark to identify safe adults.
The interactive classroom presentations are developed for each age level. The younger children are introduced to fun, swimsuit-clad, body safety bears, coloring books, and activities to reinforce body safety.
For older children, classroom activities and animated Protect
Yourself Rules videos give children age-appropriate real-life examples of how to respond to
body safety violations.
Children need to know these rules and realize there are caring adults to support them.
The Safe Harbor Safe Kids programs are just the beginning of what Safe Harbor, Allegan, offers children of abuse and neglect. Once children understand that they have trustworthy adults with whom they can share uncomfortable situations, they often self-report. On the other hand, adults, whether mandated reporters or non-mandated reporters, are
also able to file concerns with either Child Protective Services (CPS) or with the local, county
or state police.
At this point, Safe Harbor can be the lifeline or conduit in the process. Because of their unique staff, children can come to the office and interact with a variety of staff members. The first person would be a trained interviewer.
The interviewer has the ability to speak with the child 1-on-1 to prevent multiple interviews by a law enforcement or CPS investigators, these interviews can be videoed. The investigative interviews are extremely important to discern the facts related to the situation in question.
In addition to trained interviewers, Safe Harbor can perform medical screenings and examinations if necessary. Again, the child is in a safe environment that is filled with friendly toys, books and murals. This prevents children from going through examinations in an unfamiliar doctor’s office or hospital.
After interviews and other tasks are completed, a team reviews the facts and works together to determine the next steps. This can complete the investigation process for CPS or the legal authorities, set up counseling sessions with the child, or start legal proceedings as deemed necessary.
The goals is to make sure that any child who feels threatened because of abuse or neglect has
a safe place to turn. Safe Harbor can provide a lifeline that can allow a child to experience
childhood even after a traumatic experience. Safe Harbor, Allegan is looking to create a new facility for their work.
Visit https://safeharborcac.org/ to learn more and/or RSVP for Sail Away with Us! Safe Harbor’s 13th Annual Lifeline Gala, April 16, 2021, 6pm, Bay Pointe Inn in Plainwell.
By Lori Antkoviak, Safe Harbor Executive Director and Gari Voss, Correspondent
April was first designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983 as a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities to pool their resources to prevent child abuse. Of the 683,000 reports across the United States in 2015, 1,670 children died as a result of the abuse and neglect. Most cases were related to situations and conditions that could have been prevented if programs had been properly implemented. The programs focus on training adults to recognize and respond to situations and provide assistance to parents and other non-abusive adults.
Allegan County is fortunate to have Safe Harbor, a children’s advocacy center that has been committed to preventing child abuse and neglect since 1983. Their mission is “to provide a safe and child-friendly atmosphere to allow a child to disclose neglect, sexual, or physical abuse and to heal from the abuse.”
Safe Harbor consists of the Beverly Schroeder Advocacy Center, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, and the Prevention Education Program that provide free services for medical services, forensic interviews, counseling services, prevention education, and victim advocacy.
Prevention begins when every adult learns how to protect the children in their communities. While children are taught about Body Safety and how to talk to a trusted adult, many adults do not recognize abuse or know how to properly respond to children when they speak about their experiences.
Protecting children from abuse should not be the job of the children in the community to self-report. In 2020, 3,239 children in Allegan County were involved in child abuse and neglect investigations. With 26,960 children in Allegan County, that equals 12% of the children in our County being involved. This percentage is lower than the previous two years when 16% of the children in the County were investigated for abuse and neglect.
Safe Harbor provides a variety of opportunities for adults to learn how to protect children. Lori Antkoviak, Executive Director of Safe Harbor stressed, “These trainings are free and can be done for any group or can help you be a trusted adult for a child victim.”
The Stewards of Children interactive video training program helps adults learn the facts about child sexual abuse, create safer environments for children, recognize the signs of abuse, and properly report suspected abuse. This program is designed for presentation to any group of adults in the community.
There are many adults referred to as mandated reporters, such as teachers, nurses, and coaches, who are required by law to report suspected child abuse. Safe Harbor provides training to groups of mandated reporters explaining their responsibilities as set forth by the Child Protection Law. Stewards of Children workshops give clear examples and information for recognizing signs of abuse, responding to suspected abuse, and reporting correctly.
There are other ways to protect children in our community. Be a friend. Social connections are an important protective factor for families. Building a connection with neighbors is an important way for families and communities to strengthen security for children and adults alike.
Every adult should learn how to respond to kids and how to report suspected abuse and neglect. Even when mandatory reporters are trained to recognize child abuse, they must understand that their verbal and physical responses to a child are extremely important.
Clarifying the words a child uses when telling his/her “story” is necessary to learn what truly happened. What a child first says may need additional explanation that assists in understanding the situation. Antkoviak shared, “Children have a limited vocabulary and it takes time for them to accurately relate an incident that may be extremely confusing and serious to them.”
During 2020, Safe Harbor has responded to the 198 reports of sexual or severe physical abuse. This is lower than the normal 210-220 incidents, but is still higher than 10 years ago when they addressed 140-160 reports.
These interactions often are begun with a report from law enforcement or the Children’s Protective Service, but Allegan is fortunate to have an agency like Safe Harbor with a staff that is experienced in interviewing children. Their interactions with children can often save law enforcement hours when investigating reports.
Beyond identifying and responding to reported abuse and neglect situations, Safe Harbor also provides training and assistance to adults across the county so they can advocate for children. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) trains adult volunteers to assist children of abuse and neglect as they navigate the family court process.
Whether an adult wants to learn more about identifying abuse and neglect, listening/responding to a child, or becoming an advocate, people can truly become proactive in preventing child abuse and neglect.
As Antkoviak states, “The power of One – You can make a difference to a child. One person, one voice, one dollar, one action. The power of one can make a difference in our community.”
Contact Safe Harbor to schedule a training or to learn how you can make a difference in protecting children in our community.
www.safeharborcac.org. To arrange a training call 269-673-3791 or email Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gari Voss
The Allegan City Council wrapped up a sale of city property, and shared reports from a variety of commissions before approving reappointments.
Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center is a non-profit dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The staff educates children and adults about behaviors that should not
be tolerated. Their goal of child abuse prevention works hand-inhand with counseling services.
The dedicated employees and volunteers have been working in a building on the corner of Trowbridge and Walnut Streets. The number of clients has expanded as has their need for a larger facility. Providing support to their individuals and groups led them on a journey to seek a new facility.
In November 2019, Perrigo generously donated a building on the corner of State and Brady
Streets to Safe Harbor hoping it would assist in their desire to expand. After an extensive
examination of the facility and the determination that it would require $850,000 to retrofit the
current building, they reluctantly sought another space for the Center’s programs. That led them to a 1.38 acre City-owned lot on Sherman Street just behind the bowling alley.
In his background information, City Manager Joel Dye stated, “Considering the value of service that Safe Harbor provides to the community and their partnership with the City when investigating crimes against children, staff suggested that Safe Harbor offer the City $1.00 for this parcel. While the city in recent years has requested compensation closer to market value, in this instance, staff feels $1.00 is just compensation for this parcel.”
Lori Antkoviak, the Executive Director of Safe Harbor, shared that this purchase would allow
the organization to move from a building a little over 3000 square feet to a facility of 7000 square feet. They plan on breaking ground and beginning construction by May.
The sale of the property had been published three times in the Allegan County News so the
City Council held their Public Hearing regarding the sale of the city-owned property on Sherman Street to Safe Harbor for $1.00. The purchase and development agreement was approved.
In other business, Rachel McKenzie shared that the Historic District Commission elected their
new officers with Jill Bentley, Chairperson, and Mike Morton, Vice-Chairperson. In addition, the Commission approved the request from Tantrick Brewing to install new signage on two sides of 243 Hubbard Street, the signage on the 101 Brady Street hotel, and the signage for the Jade Estates Inn at 302 Cutler Street.
Councilmember Peter Hanse reviewed the activities of the Airport Advisory Board including the election of Andy Millin as Chairperson for 2021. The Board reviewed the tenancy of the T-Hangers at the airport and the list of Capital Improvements that have been slated for completion over the next 6 years. These would begin with the repair of the crack sealing on the taxi lane in 2021 followed by the construction of an 8-unit T-Hangar in 2022. Members brainstormed ways to add amenities such as a vending machine for airplane necessities, some restroom facilities closer to the current T-Hangers, and extending Internet to the T-Hangers.
Dye highlighted the proceedings from the Zoning Board of Appeals where Jon Cook was
appointed chairperson for the meeting and Alex Wilkening was appointed secretary. The Board reviewed and approved the request from Hotel Ventures, LLC for a height variance of 7 feet for 101 Brady Street after hearing from Jason Watts to deny the application. The Board went on to allow the construction of an addition to courthouse at 113 Chestnut Street since it will come closer to Trowbridge Street than what is allowed in the Zoning Ordinances.
Mayor Delora Andrus asked that the Council approve the appoint of Kelly McLean to the Downtown Development Authority Board for 3 years, Mike Morton to the Historic District Commission for 2 years, Eddie Quinones-Walker to the Historic District Commission for 2 years, and Paula Mintek to the Public Spaces Committee for 2 years. These are all reappointments.
Roger Bird shared seeing construction workers on Locust Street, which is a indication of
bringing conversations and plans to fruition. Mayor Andrus acknowledge that the action on the
national level at the Capitol was disheartening, and truly mirrored that there are disagreements
across the country. She acknowledged that there are differing beliefs and ideas on the City
Council, but she respects and appreciates each member and is happy that they can discuss their
opinions and work to find solutions to improve the city.
ALLEGAN, Mich. — An Allegan County organization that provides services to children who are victims of abuse hopes to expand its reach after receiving a new building from Perrigo.
Representatives from the consumer healthcare company, which operates in Allegan, announced Thursday, Nov. 21, the donation of a former maintenance warehouse to the Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center.
The 6,000 square-foot space is nearly three times the size of the current Safe Harbor building, which has limited the organization’s ability to serve the community, Executive Director Lori Antkoviak said.
“When you only have a limited number of counseling spaces, you can’t provide that many sessions to the kids,” Antkoviak said. “We also can’t provide therapy, medical [exams] and forensic interviews all at the same time, and many times there’s a need for that.”
The new facility, which still requires renovations before it’s usable, was underutilized by Perrigo and needed a home, said Erin Bonovetz, senior vice president of OTC business for Perrigo.
“This donation alone helps us do things that we could never dream of doing for Allegan and Barry counties,” Bonovetz said. “And given Perrigo resides primarily in Allegan County, it’s going to be instrumental in helping the overall community we live and work in.”
In 2018, Safe Harbor served over 300 children in Allegan and Barry counties though the children’s advocacy program and provided counseling to 80 children. The new facility will have more forensic interviewing and therapy rooms and provide more spaces for law enforcement and child protective services agents to work cases.
“We only have one interview room [right now], so it has to serve the younger children and the older children,” said Allegan County Prosecuting Attorney Myrene Koch. “Research has shown that if you can have different rooms geared to different age groups, that is beneficial.”
Perrigo has supported many of Safe Harbor’s programs for 20 years, Antkoviak said.
“When we showed them what we were doing with so little space, they were so willing to participate and help us,” she said. “We will finally be able to do what we really need for the children.”
Safe Harbor still needs to raise $850,000 to renovate the building. The organization is kicking off a fundraising effort, “Lighting the Way,” on Dec. 3 at the new building, located at 102 Brady St.
“I think many community members see the need,” Antkoviak said. “They’ve been touched by child sexual and physical abuse by some way in their homes, families or friends. They realize how important it is for children to get the help they need.”
ALLEGAN, MI — Perrigo has donated a building in Allegan to a local safe harbor facility, which will allow the organization to expand their services and better serve children and families in the community.
Gathered under tents to protect from heavy rain on Thursday, Nov. 21, Perrigo representative Erin Bonovetzv handed the building’s keys to Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Lori Antkoviak.
The building still needs renovations before the nonprofit can move in. The plan is to kick off a fundraising campaign in December and to break ground in spring 2020, said Erin Bonovetz, senior vice-president of OTC business for Perrigo.
The donated building was appraised at $320,000 and will allow the organization to expand from 2,400 square feet to 6,000 square feet, according to a Nov. 21 news release.
“This is a very, very critical day for the safe harbor agency,” Bonovetz said. “The donations that Perrigo is sponsoring for us is going to be critical for the agencies growth and support.”
The organization has been serving children healing from abuse in the Allegan community for over 26 years, Safe Harbor Executive Director Lori Antkoviak said.
Services provided by the organization include coordinating forensic interviews, counseling, advocacy, court advocacy and a multi-disciplinary team that works with sexual and severe physical abuse victims and their families.
New services the new facility will allow include rooms designed for specific age groups to help children be comfortable when sharing their stories, and observation rooms for law enforcement and other officials. Additional spaces will allow multiple children to take part in a variety of therapy sessions.
“Each of these essential services help children find hope and healing after abuse,” Antkoviak said. “We thank Perrigo for bringing light to children.”
Perrigo, founded in Allegan, produces store brand, over-the-counter health and wellness products. The company’s global headquarters was moved to Dublin, Ireland, in 2013, though its North American base of operations remains in Allegan.
Perrigo has owned the building for decades and it was currently not being utilized, Bonovetz said. Safe Harbor took possession of the building about two weeks ago.
Pat Hodapp, vice-president of operations finance for Perrigo, is on Safe Harbor’s board of directors and he “put the pieces together” after recognizing the opportunity for the company to to give back to the community, Bonovetz said.
“[We] pride ourselves in being responsible corporate citizens by giving back to the community,” Hodapp said. “We want to ensure Allegan continues to be a safe haven for children and families across the region.”