When Amy and Steve Baker’s daughter was sexually abused in 2004, the couple said it awakened every parent’s nightmare. But in the midst of the tragedy, the couple said they found their guardian angels at New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center.
The legal system feels the touch of those angel wings as well, according to cases highlighted by General Sessions Division IV Judge Robert Headrick.
The Bakers, Judge Headrick, New Hope Executive Director Trudy Hughes and a host of board members and supporters gathered recently for breakfast at First United Methodist Church in Maryville. Their purpose? To tell the New Hope story as they strive to raise funds in this tough economic climate.
“One of the most traumatizing things a parent can find out is their child has been sexually abused,” Amy Baker said. “Our only hope came from the New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center.”
The Bakers were on hand at the church during a first-ever orientation breakfast that was both an informational session and fundraising get-together. The center proponents hoped to raise about $50,000 to help the budget of the facility.
Executive Director Trudy Hughes said that before April of 2000, victims of child abuse in Blount County had to go from agency to agency, department to department for the legal system to get its work done.
“The juvenile went from the Emergency Room to the police department to the Department of Children’s Services to the courthouse and to the District Attorney’s office. It could be a round robin at various locations,” she said. “When you have to tell that story to different persons at different locations, it can be very traumatizing.”
The New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center offers a different option to children and their families. They tell their story one time at one place, Hughes said.
Hughes said the atmosphere is conducive to allowing the child to open up. The facility is in a house located in downtown Maryville. There are brightly colored rooms, toys, a medical examination room, a place for officers and law enforcement to interview and a place for counseling. Most importantly, there’s plenty of room to play inside and out. “It’s a family atmosphere that starts the healing process,” Hughes said. “We’ve reached over 1,500 children in the few years we’ve been open.”
Hughes said New Hope’s mission is about prevention, education and intervention.
The intervention part of the mission involves working with victims to obtain evidence that can be used in court.
Judge Headrick, who was formerly an assistant district attorney, spoke to those gathered about how difficult it is for children who must testify against those who hurt them. “They have to physically come into court and offer testimony. To get children to do that I had to question them on the stand,” he said.
To do this, Headrick would have to interview the child to ensure that they understood the truth from a lie and reality from what isn’t real.
Headrick shared a story about the Baker’s daughter. She was brought to New Hope after her babysitter’s husband sexually abused her. She was 3 going on 4 when she was victimized and 4 going on 5 when Headrick finally agreed she could testify in court.
Initially Headrick didn’t think the girl could stand up under cross-examination. “She said that the Care Bears were real and lived at her house,” he said.
Headrick chose not to prosecute the case, but New Hope clinical director and licensed clinical social worker Tabitha Damron continued to work with the girl and convinced him to interview her again about three months later.
The second time Headrick went to New Hope to speak with the youngster, he was on the porch waiting for her when she bounded into the room, jumped on a couch and said, “Let’s talk.”
Headrick said he was impressed with the victim and that she ultimately was able to stand up under scrutiny in court. “Not only was she able to take the stand, she pointed to her abuser and identified him,” he said. “He is now serving a significant sentence.”
The prosecutor-turned-judge said the advocacy center helps children who must go into an uncomfortable atmosphere and testify. “It’s very important for them. Court is not an appropriate place for children,” he said. “The individuals at New Hope make it less traumatizing for the victims.”
New Hope provides a way for law enforcement, children’s services, medical professionals and the prosecutors to advocate for victimized children. “They’re innocent victims. They don’t have a champion,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to be their champion.”
Amy Baker said the New Hope personnel were there for her family. “There was much guilt and grief. We would be there two or three days a week getting support. The advocacy center provided so much during that time,” she said.
Amy Baker thanked New Hope and Headrick for bringing their daughter’s case to court. “Because of the work of the advocacy center and Robert Headrick, my daughter faced her abuser and put him away for 20 years without parole. My daughter is one of a kind, full of self-confidence, energy and enthusiasm,” she said. “New Hope is such a fitting title for this center because that’s what they did. They gave us hope.”
Mark Cate shared with the audience about progress on the new community campus planned for property adjacent to the Blount County Children’s Home on McCammon Avenue. Agencies such as New Hope, Helen Ross McNabb and the Blount County Children’s Home would be on the property.
“At New Hope, we’re at a point where we’ve got to expand. We ultimately want to have a place where its one-stop shopping,” he said of giving families a place where they can get a variety children’s services on the same property. “We could ultimately locate a number of agencies at the campus, and families wouldn’t get lost. We think it’s a great opportunity.”
Cate said the Helen Ross McNabb Center, an agency specializing in providing mental health care, addiction/recovery and social services to families, has raised their money and will be breaking ground on their new facility in about two months.
Hughes asked those gathered to consider financially contributing to New Hope. Then table captains situated at each table shared how donations would be used and explained more about how New Hope helps children. “We’re asking you to help raise needed funds, $50,000, about 13 percent of our budget,” she said.
Hughes said this is the first year New Hope has held a breakfast orientation to brief community members about New Hope and to ask for financial assistance. Hughes said she’s is confident the new community campus will give residents more confidence and make them more willing to get help from places like the Children’s Home for services such as supervised visitation for children, New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center for help when a child is victimized or Helen Ross McNabb for social services. “We hope to create something that’s not as scary. It breaks down the stigma so people don’t think, ‘That’s not a place for me.’”
For information about New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center, call 865-981-2000. For information about the Blount County Children’s Home, call 865-983-4018 or 865-982-6361. For information about Helen Ross McNabb Center, call 865-681-6990.