By Erich Wagner (File photo)
When the Center for Alexandria’s Children opened in 2006, the memory of the severe beating and eventual death of 3-year-old Katelyn Frazier in 2000 remained fresh in the minds of city residents.
The center’s focus in the early years was on improving how the city deals with child abuse cases, making local agencies work together and avoid undue trauma for victims. But recently the organization has begun concentrating on preventing such tragedies from happening in the first place.
The center is holding its fifth annual fundraising gala February 28 at Virtue Feed and Grain, and officials hope to raise more than $100,000. The proceeds will benefit more than 200 children affected by abuse and neglect annually as well as 600-plus families who participate in the playgroup program aimed at mistreatment prevention.
Ellen Folts, a board member of the Center for Alexandria’s Children, said the old model of various city departments working on different aspects of child abuse was a burden for families, who had to visit different places to get needed resources. But more importantly, children often relived their abuse, telling their story time and again.
“The [problem] was that the child had to keep telling different people what happened over and over,” Folts said. “That’s very traumatic for a child, and it was problematic for trying to prosecute cases. Any inconsistency in the child’s statements could be used against the child in court.
“For a 5- or 6-year-old, they’re not going to use the same words verbatim after a fifth or sixth time. Or they just shut down.”
Folts said the center has a cadre of trained interviewers who talk to potential abuse victims. They know what questions each local department needs to ask and tape the interviews so children don’t have to continually relive their abuse.
In 2011, the center received accreditation from the National Children’s Alliance for its efforts to streamline and improve the city’s child abuse response system. Lori Morris, a workgroup leader who helped form the center’s playgroup curriculum, said the recognition allowed the organization to focus on its ultimate goal: preventing child abuse.
“The primary goal for the center was always getting to prevention, because prevention is obviously the better way to go,” said Morris, who also is an ACT for Alexandria board member.
Morris said the playgroup program, where families participate in a bevy of learning activities together for an hour-and-a-half each week, is just as much about teaching parents as it is about children.
“Once we get them to come, then we can really help them take that walk into kindergarten and hopefully avert crises along the way or at least make sure they have the resources they need to avert the crises,” Morris said. “[Parenting] is tough. … Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of what a 1- or 2-year-old might be able to do or some might not be familiar with effective ways of teaching or how to effectively discipline your child.
“There are all sorts of things. I know I went through a lot of schooling, but I never took a parenting class.”