(Oct. 5, 2017) Officials from throughout the county and state gathered outside the Cricket Center in Berlin last Wednesday to talk about how far the only child advocacy center in Worcester County has come and what that has meant for area children.
Worcester County States Attorney Beau H. Oglesby said partnerships, like those at the center, were critical to its success.
“The task force concept works — it absolutely works. And it works in the drug [enforcement] environment and it’s critical when it comes to children — what we can do to stop their abuse and what we can do to help them once the abuse has already occurred.”
He said there are clear measurements to back up the center’s success.
“It is with pleasure and reluctance — joy and sadness — that I tell you that, through the prosecution of individuals in Worcester County who have abused our most precious and our most vulnerable, we have achieved an incarceration year total in excess of 1,000 years,” he said. “That is a milestone … and its something that certainly is important for us to recognize and keep in our minds, that this is a very real problem. Not only my office and law enforcement and all of the stakeholders, but the judiciary also has bought into the significance and seriousness of these offenses.”
Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said it is vital that children who experience abuse are not forgotten, and the center helps to ensure they are not.
“The pains that they have and the pains their families have are something that live on, so we can protect those other children just a little bit better,” he said.
Downing said Cricket Center board members bring together “people from all different disciplines” to help with everything from forensic equipment to family advocates.
“We really take that job seriously,” he said. “I’ve been here since the beginning, and I’m very proud of the board that we’ve assembled and the work that you do.”
Life Crisis Center Executive Director Abby Marsh said she spent most of her career as a prosecutor, including time at the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“I saw the before and the after of a child advocacy center,” she said. “Before … the pieces of the puzzle were all over the place … but maybe law enforcement wasn’t familiar with everything that was going on.
“When the CAC came together in the Cricket Center, it put that puzzle together,” she continued. “Instead of looking through a lens at certain aspects, you saw the whole picture and we put the child first.
“Thank you — thank you — for all the people involved in making the Cricket Center possible, because it truly is a model,” Marsh said. “I went from [being a] prosecutor where the focus was on getting that person and making them accountable for what they’ve done to our children, to seeing the other side of it, to seeing the life crisis center side where we contribute the counseling that happens from the moment that child comes in, all through the process, whether you’re able to hold someone accountable or not, and even after.”
The result, she said, is turning children into survivors.
“Thank you, [Cricket Center Executive Director] Wendy [Myers], thank you all of the stakeholders, and thank you law enforcement and the people who are really making an effort every day to make our community a safer, better place to be for everyone, but especially for our children,” she said.
Dawn Blades, a child protective services supervisor who works out of the Cricket Center, said she spent 16 years “in the field” and recalled many of the inadequacies of past practices.
Before the Cricket Center, she said, child protective services would often follow up on reports of abuse by visiting children at schools.
“We would get the nurse’s office or the guidance office, or some little vacant room that we could sit down [in] and talk with the child alone. And we would talk with them about, not only neglect or physical abuse, but we would talk to them about sex abuse — about their first sexual experience — and then we would send them back to class,” she said. “We’ve moved so far away from that.
“Now they come to the center, they’re interviewed somewhere where they can feel safe, [and] when they leave here they’re not going to go back to their classroom,” she said. “And their interview is video and audio recorded so they don’t have to tell their story over and over and over again.”
She said a family advocate walks the parents, who are often just as traumatized as the children, through the process. Blades also raved about the level of therapy available through the center.
“We get to connect them, right away, to what they need for that healing,” she said. “Our team is absolutely amazing … everybody that’s involved really cares about what we do and that makes it just right. To say that our outcomes are so much better, I think it’s an understatement.”
State Sen. Jim Mathias said the center is a collaboration of people who “believed in a dream.”
“If you close your eyes for a quick moment and think about your fondest memories, it’s probably when you were a child. And not every child has those fond memories,” he said. “If you look at each other, you clearly are the advocacy group, today, to make those memories better.”
Mathias said children are the community’s most important assets, and he vowed to do his part to protect them.
“As we stood together in the very beginning with [former state’s attorney] Joel Todd and the team, we stand together, in renewal, today. You can count on me, you can count on us, through prosecution, through legislation,” he said. “But more important than the work you’re doing today, is the inspiration you’re providing for your successors [tomorrow].”
Tours were given inside the Cricket Center, which includes a comfortable interview room. Video and audio recording equipment is set up in an adjacent room. That interview is admissible as evidence in court.
In the hallway outside of those rooms, printed on two sides of the white-tiled walls, are small handprints representing each child who visited the center.
There are more than 100 handprints.
Tickets are on sale for the second annual Cricket Center Foundation Fundraiser, Wednesday, Oct. 25 at The Hobbit Restaurant on 81st Street in Ocean City. The event is the biggest annual fundraiser for the center.
Tickets are $65 and include hors d’oeuvres, live and silent auctions, and live music by Blind Wind and Perpetual Commotion.
For more information on the center or to purchase tickets, visit www.thecricketcenter.com.