Dee Norton Center expanding to better serve child victims of abuse
Victims of child sexual abuse, violence or bullying in the East Cooper area, including the Cainhoy Peninsula, will soon be able to access needed support and resources a little closer to home.
The newly renamed Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, located at 1061 King Street, is set to open a second location in Mount Pleasant and receive a complete renovation by the end of next year.
According to the Center's website, the non-profit organization is dedicated to serving victims of child abuse and neglect in the Lowcountry. Its mission is "to prevent abuse, protect children and heal families."
The Center’s CEO and Executive Director Dr. Carole Swiecicki said that they are particularly pleased about their new East Cooper site, which will be located at 677 Long Point Road.
“We were thrilled to get that location because it’s convenient for the Daniel Island/Cainhoy area as well as for Mt. Pleasant folks,” said Swiecicki.
According to Swiecicki, the need is warranted, particularly if you examine statistics in the Daniel Island/Cainhoy area. In the 29492 area code alone, 136 children experience sexual abuse, sexual assault or physical abuse every year. Additionally, 397 children, including the 136, experience some form of interpersonal violence.
“[Interpersonal violence] could include really severe bullying, witnessing a homicide or witnessing domestic violence,” said Swiecicki. “It’s happening to a lot of kids, even on Daniel Island.”
With the growth in population in the area, it is estimated that currently over 14,000 children in Charleston County and Berkeley County combined experience some form of interpersonal violence each year, according to a press release by the Lou Hammond Group.
The release also states, “the Center serves 99 percent of children living on the peninsula and in North Charleston who reach out for help, but serves only 36 percent of the children who need help in East Cooper and 21 percent of children on Daniel Island and Cainhoy.”
The reason for the statistics is two-fold, explained Swiecicki - awareness and location. “That’s part of the work we’re doing with the Lou Hammond Group is trying to get awareness about the fact that in our community, we are actually the place for families to call,” said Swiecicki. “A lot of the folks said that they thought that we were only for families without resources because we don’t charge children and families…but we’re trying to help parents understand that it’s the same idea if your child had a broken leg, you would take them to the children’s hospital. If they have something that is a concern for abuse, you take them here.”
Swiecicki added that one of the Center’s key services in combatting this issue is coordination.
“When we actually opened there was a legislative delegation that did a study on what happens when child abuse is alleged,” said Swiecicki. “What they found is that there are so many different people involved and agencies, that there is nobody coordinating. Law enforcement is doing their investigation, but so is the Department of Social Services (DSS) and they’re both interviewing the child. If they would talk to one another it would help things go better. So we were actually formed under the value of collaboration, which is still one of our core values.”
A part of that coordination is providing forensic interviews, which is a video taped interview conducted by a licensed therapist, explained Swiecicki. “We’re actually the ones who do the interviews so [law enforcement and DSS] don’t have to do them and so the child is not having to tell their story as many times.”
Currently the Center has the capacity to conduct 1560 forensic interviews on children per year, according to Swiecicki. But with the renovation and addition of the new location, the center will be more than doubling their capacity.
“We’ll have 1500 children that can be served with that forensic interview at the new center,” said Swiecicki. “With the expansion and the sort of lean design here, we’ll actually increase from 1500 on average to 2000.”
The Center’s other services include on-site medical exams provided by the child abuse pediatrics division from MUSC, clinical assessments provided by the center’s clinical team, therapy both on-site and through partnerships with community partners like the S.C. Department of Health and the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at MUSC, as well as community outreach and education.
But with the added space, Swiecicki explained that there will be new amenities such as a “landing pad” for law enforcement and an educational space in the lobby for children.
“Particularly when a detective is out there, if they’re wearing their full uniform it can be kind of unsettling for children,” said Swiecicki. “So we’re going to have a dedicated community partner space, so that they will have a place that if they have two interviews that are happening that day they can stay and get their work done.”
She added, “We’ve been talking with communities and schools for their volunteers to be able to do tutoring in those spaces for kids who need that…If we have children here who could get their homework done with some help, they could leave here and go play soccer and do other things that kids do.”
Swiecicki emphasized that referrals do not have to come from law enforcement or DSS. The Center provides aid to cases at all levels of severity, she said.
“In reality, we do over 3000 calls with parents per year,” added Swiecicki. “…Not everybody that comes in gets all of those things I told you about. Some folks just get a phone call. I think that that is something that is helpful for parents to know—that they can call and get support. We kind of help them through the process of what is necessary.”
If in need of immediate assistance or consultation, please contact the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center at (843) 723-3600. The phone is answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For additional information, visit wwwdeenortoncenter.org.