Protecting the Smallest Citizens

Three Parts Protection, one part cuddly quilt

by Karen T. Bartlett

Childrens Advocacy BearsThe first thing we do when a child comes through our door is to assure her that she is now safe,” says Jackie Stephens, CEO of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County.

“Whether a child is brought in by a nonoffending parent or caretaker, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, or on referral from a doctor, hospital or the Florida Department of Children and Families, it may be the first time in his young life that he has heard those words.

From the minute a child arrives, our Child Protection Team moves into action.

A forensic interview is performed to find out the details of what has happened. Our pediatrician is called in to medically identify abuse and order laboratory tests and x-rays as required. Our advocates begin to help the families with the resources needed to stabilize the families and to help navigate the legal system. Simultaneously, our specially trained therapists start the process to help mitigate the trauma that leaves lifelong emotional scars.

child with Advocacy Bear“That’s the medical and legal side of the story,” Stephens says. “The other side is the comfort and warmth these hurt and frightened children so desperately need, on this first day of their long road to recovery. This is where our loving community of volunteers and angels – people like Naples artist Catherine Brown – steps in.

“Through a non-profit organization called Splashes of Hope, Catherine and the team spent several weeks creating, painting and installing three delightful murals depicting a magical sand castle, vibrant undersea party scenes, and happy dolphins playing in an emerald sea.”

painted muralSplashes of Hope was founded by Heather Brugge, whose close friend spent her last days in a clinical hospital room. In memory of that friend, Heather’s organization now enables artists all over the U.S. to enhance clinical spaces with positive imagery, especially in children’s facilities, that might improve the healing process. “Why stare up at a bare white ceiling,” Heather wondered, “when you could see into a sky filled with fluttering butterflies and colorful hot-air balloons?”

“We also are grateful to the women of the Naples Quilters Guild, who for the past four years have sewn child-size quilts, one for each child to curl up in, and for Betty Shephard, who makes pillow bag games,” Stephens said. “Other wonderful organizations, including Arthrex, Hertz, Kiwanis Club, Leadership Collier, Any Town Tree, Jason’s Deli, Robert Half, Imperial Fitness, St. Demetrius Church, and Skillets, help provide our children with holiday presents, toys for our treasure chest, and new clothes, all in an effort to give comfort and joy to the children we serve.

“The clinical, medical and legal aspects of our services can save lives,” Stephens says. “The warm, cuddly side opens hearts and gives hope on the long road to recovery.”

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