These New Hampshire organizations work together to prevent child abuse and help survivors

  • April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and May is National Foster Care Month. Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Published: 5/7/2022 7:52:16 PM

In April, representatives from the Granite State Children’s Alliance and its Child Advocacy Centers used blue chalk to color in bricks on the courtyard in Concord’s Eagle Square, creating a colorful exhibit with a sobering meaning. The display was created in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, and made to visualize the 2,000-plus child victims who come through New Hampshire’s Child Advocacy Centers every year.

“Adults in New Hampshire are mandated reporters of child abuse, and we really need to be aware that this is something that impacts all of us, whether we know we know someone or whether we think we don’t know someone that’s been a victim,” said Megan Oliviero, education and outreach director at the Granite State Children’s Alliance. “We know we have to play a role in helping be a part of the solution.”

Last week the Union Leader published the story of Nackey Gallowhur Scagliotti, stepdaughter of longtime newspaper publisher William Loeb, who said he sexually abused her repeatedly when she was 7 years old, almost 70 years ago. Loeb died in 1981 at the age of 75.

Although he never lived in New Hampshire, Loeb was a larger-than-life figure who ran and wielded the power of the state’s largest newspaper. Loeb was a giant in the New Hampshire politics, and his life has been the subject of several books, including a recent one by former Union Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid. It was that book, which detailed some of Loeb’s extra-marital affairs, that triggered Scagliotti to come forward with her own statement.

“If there’s ever to be an end to child abuse, it will happen because advocates, reporters and victims are willing to shine light into the dark corners of human behavior,” Scagliotti said Friday.

For child advocates at abuse prevention organizations, cases like this fall in line with the statistics. According to the Granite State Children’s Alliance, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Approximately 90% of child victims know their abuser, and 90% don’t reveal their own abuse. In fact, a study of over 1,000 survivors that many child advocates cite, says the average age of disclosure for a child abuse survivor is 52 years old. In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations to report abuse is 22 years after turning 18 (at age 40), but survivors can seek support from organizations at any time.

“We know that it can take a lot for a child victim to come forward and to really recognize and understand their trauma,” said Pamela Keilig, public policy specialist at the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “That’s why it’s really important that they are aware that there are services available to them, even if it’s something that happened 50 years ago or 20 years ago, because trauma can have such lifelong impacts on victims.”

From 2020 to 2021, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence served 1,155 child and adolescent victims of sexual assault.

In New Hampshire, every adult is a mandated reporter under the law, which means any person who suspects a child under age 18 has been abused is required to report the suspicion to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). After a report is made, organizations including DCYF, Child Advocacy Centers, crisis centers, law enforcement, prosecutors and mental health professionals collaborate to learn more about the situation and help the victim.

The organizations work together in multidisciplinary teams, assembled to conduct forensic interviews with child victims – often held at Child Advocacy Centers which are located in every county – to gather information to use in the legal process and understand what help the child may need.

“The reason it’s so important to all work together is because each member of that team comes to the investigation with a slightly different lens and focus,” Oliviero said. “The prosecutors are thinking about what potential crimes have been committed and what charges those may be. Detectives and police have to think about what evidence they may need to collect in their investigation. DCYF may be asking questions about the child’s safety at home. So when the case goes to the Child Advocacy Center, the forensic interviewer can really handle finding out what happened with that forensic interview.”

When families arrive at a center for the interview, they often are greeted by crisis center advocates from the Coalition and family support specialists, who explain the process. The child is interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer, while the other members of the multidisciplinary team observe the interview from another room via closed-circuit television in order to not overwhelm the child with too many people and questions.

“What they were finding before CACs were being used is that kids were being interviewed by law enforcement and then by child protection, and then again by prosecution if it was to come to trial,” said Nicole Ledoux, victim service quality assurance director at Granite State Children’s Alliance. “They’re telling that story over and over and that can be very traumatizing for them and kids can just shut down because they don’t want to want to talk about it anymore”

Joi Smith, program director at the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said today’s interviews are transparent and trauma-informed.

“They show the kids where the camera is and they go with the child’s pace, they build rapport with the child, they don’t pressure children at all to try to get the child to disclose anything that they don’t feel comfortable doing so,” Smith said.

Before and after the interview, family specialists from the Child Advocacy Center and the area crisis center act as confidential advocates separate from the investigation process and provide resources to families including connecting them with mental health supports or medical care if needed. Some centers around New Hampshire, such as Laconia’s, have on-site behavior health clinicians and medical providers to centralize the resources all in one place. In other locations, the care is outsourced to hospitals or community mental health centers.

“Immediately there are a number of services that are being provided to that child and their family to kind of work through that immediate acute trauma, which really, really helps them in the long run as part of their healing journeys,” said Smith. “It kind of mitigates those long-term effects that we do see with adult survivors of childhood abuse that haven’t had those interventions. So those partnerships are really important.”

Adults who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse can get help at NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, no matter how many years have passed, according to Smith. They can call the state hotline, talk with advocates or get help filing a report if it’s within New Hampshire’s statute of limitations.

“A lot of people have the misunderstanding that in order to connect to the crisis center you have to be in crisis, or you have to have had a trauma that recently occurred,” said Smith. “That’s not the case, all of our member program crisis centers are available to support anybody who’s been impacted by domestic or sexual violence, stalking or human trafficking at any time.”

According to DCYF’s 2020 data book, the agency received 19,478 referrals on possible child abuse and neglect in 2019 and identified 1,217 unique child victims.

COVID-19 didn’t help matters – in 2020, reports of child abuse to DCYF decreased by almost 50% while children were learning remotely, away from educators who are the number one source of reports for child abuse and neglect across the country.

Granite State Children’s Alliance’s educational program “Know and Tell” has learning tools to educate adults on the signs of child abuse and neglect. Possible signs a child has experienced abuse include anxiety, dissociation, challenges with sleeping or eating, difficulty with physical contact and social connection among other signs, according to Know and Tell.

“I think it’s really critical that as communities we create an environment where children feel safe to come forward, so that they don’t have this lifelong impact of abuse before they’re ready to fully recognize and understand what they’ve experienced,” Keilig said.

To report child abuse or neglect, call DCYF anytime at (800) 894-5533 (in New Hampshire only) or (603) 271-of state).

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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