Posted on April 1, 2019
State officials underscore importance of South Arkansas Children’s Coalition
By Terrance Armstard
Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson and state Rep. DeAnn Vaught visited El Dorado this weekend to share the importance of organizations like the South Arkansas Children’s Coalition.
Supporters of the South Arkansas Children’s Coalition gathered at the El Dorado Conference Center on Saturday evening to attend the 2019 Blue Tie Affair, a signature fundraising event for the local organization.
The event was a way for SACC to recognize and thank its sponsors for the support they provide to the organization, which includes both CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and CAC (Children’s Advocacy Center). CASA began serving children in Union County in 1996 and has served well over 1,000 children. CAC opened in 2017 and saw over 80 children the same year.
Hutchinson was the keynote speaker of the event, while Vaught, R-Horatio, served as special emcee. Vaught shared her own story of surviving child abuse to underscore the importance of SACC’s mission in South Arkansas.
“God has had me on a big journey,” Vaught said. “I didn’t have a CAC or CASA volunteer to come get me or help me, so it makes me appreciate what you do very much and it gives kids a great hope who don’t have any.”
Vaught said that when she was around the age of 10, she was abused by a neighbor who was a good family friend. She emphasized that children at that age don’t understand what or why something like that would happen, noting that she was also bullied at school.
“I didn’t feel like there was anybody I could turn to. I became angry at everybody and everything. I had discipline problems. I didn’t know what to do with all my anger,” she said.
Vaught said she didn’t tell her husband until they got engaged and considered herself to be a “very broken and used” individual.
It wasn’t until she had her second child that her world truly began to tumble.
“I became anorexic, weighing only 98 pounds,” she said. “I became suicidal.”
After going to the hospital three times, she was told that she was going to die if something didn’t change.
“For someone who is a strong Christian, it’s hard to get to that place where you don’t care anymore,” Vaught said. “That little girl inside me needed and wanted help.”
Vaught said she reluctantly went to therapy, first being angry about the situation.
“I went through therapy for three years, a long hard three years,” she said. “Thank God I’m standing here today, because I could not be.”
Hutchinson reiterated the importance of mental health therapy and the counseling for those who suffer abuse.
“It’s not the kids’ fault, it’s the monster, the dragon, the wolf. Right underneath her parents’ noses, it’s happening,” Hutchinson said. “Ninety percent of the time, like DeAnn, the victim knows the person and more times than not that person is supposed to be someone who loves and protects them, do good to them, somebody you welcome into your home and this person is hurting their most precious child. This is the problem, for grownups to hear what a child says.”
Hutchinson said that the developer of the CAC designed the center for the child to be protected and the wolf to be revealed. That process was streamlined so that a child wouldn’t have to tell the ghastly stories repeatedly. The “childfirst protocol” is designed to make children more comfortable and modern technology allows for the child to have to relive the experience as few times as possible.
“With the technology, cameras and recording equipment, we can trap everything in time, so that anyone reviewing the tape would know there is not a way in God’s green Earth that child is making this up,” she said. “The children are protected and the wolf is put away. But the healing you see, has already begun.”
Hutchinson described how the CAC helps to provide mental health counseling and trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy specifically developed for children to help them through the healing process in the best and fastest way possible. She said that as she travels and discusses CAC, there’s always someone in the room who she calls a grownup child who never got help.
“As much as you’ve dealt with it, internalized it, prayed about it, maybe you sought other counseling, maybe you confided in someone (but) it’s still a burden and still haunts you. We have counselors now. You can finally get free and heal and be unchained, be unshackled and be all that God meant for you to be,” she said. “We want to answer those prayers and be on alert.”
She said that if anyone suspects child abuse or severe neglect, they should call the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline at 1-844-SAVE-ACHILD.
The Blue Tie Affair presented a formal change in the way the organization recognizes its sponsors, said South Arkansas Children’s Coalition Executive Director Robin Krneta.
“We knew for the last year or so we wanted to do a little more upscale dinner,” Krneta said. “We were sitting around talking, and actually our Board President Kensel Green came up with the name ‘Blue Tie Affair’ instead of it being a black tie affair.”
Krneta said that blue is the national color for child abuse prevention awareness. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month.
With tables reserved, members from sponsors such as LANXESS, First Financial Bank, Mustard Seed Wealth Management, Murphy USA Charitable Foundation, Government Supply Services, LLC., B’s Weddings and Rentals, The Baine Family, Clean Harbors, HEPCO Inc., BancorpsSouth, Cathy’s Tax Service, state Rep. Sonia Barker, Tombo Watts, Premier Planning and Events, Restore Restoration and Cleaning and BC Carpet and Floor Cleaning got a chance to hear about the importance and impact of their support on the lives of the children of Union County.
AllCare Pharmacy was the title sponsor of the event and was represented by owner, former state Sen. Percy Malone, who discussed his involvement with child advocacy programs.
“Sen. Malone is a big advocate for the children’s advocacy centers and is a big sponsor for Children’s Advocacy Center of Arkansas, our state chapter,” Krneta said.
Malone emphasized the importance of sponsorprovided support at Saturday’s event, noting that the only way to have a successful impact is to have support from the community.
“This program will not be successful by government. If it is successful, it will be from you. We learned that a long time ago,” he said.
Malone described how on the first day of his legislative career in the House of Representatives seeing a baby with cigarette burns on his face affected him. After that experience, he said, he went “upstream to change DHS (Department of Human Services) regulations and the law” so that they look at what’s in the best interest of the child.
“It’s not a Republican, Democratic or Independent issue. These little children are none; they are God’s creation,” Malone said.
According to its website, the purpose of the nonprofit Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas (CACA) is to promote, assist and support the development, growth and continuation of CACs in the state so that every child victim has access to its services.
The 13th South Judicial District CASA Program recruits and trains community volunteers in Union and Columbia counties to advocate for abused and neglected children in the juvenile court system.
Terrance Armstard can be reached at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com.