Kathryn O’Day, commission of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, is looking for solutions to state-wide problems.
But she’s looking local to find them.
O’Day visited the New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center on Wednesday as part of a top-to-bottom review of her department. Solutions to problems, she said, are found on a local level where people are closest to the problems.
O’Day said that as she is doing the review of the department, she is asking for any input and advice folks can give. “As you come across ways to save time and be more efficient, as you are solving problems, we want to know about it,” she told those gathered for her visit at New Hope. “The best solutions come from those working closest to the situations.”
Members of law enforcement and the court system were on hand for O’Day’s tour of New Hope. Trudy Hughes, executive director of New Hope, explained that the purpose of the facility is to enable a child who has been abused to tell “one story, one time, one place,” as a way to lessen the trauma of child abuse.
The center is a two-story house in Maryville with a welcoming entrance and waiting area, as well as a colorful playroom for children. There are child-friendly rooms available for interviews, emergency medical exams and counseling.
This team approach in one place minimizes the trauma of having the child go to law enforcement offices, the doctor/hospital, and the office of the Child Protective Services worker. Non-offending family members are also assisted at the Center through advocacy information, education and support groups.
O’Day’s visit was initiated by District 8 State Rep. Art Swann and District 20 State Rep. Bob Ramsey. Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp, Alcoa Police Chief Ken Burge, Assistant Chief Jimmy Long with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney Mike Flynn also greeted the commissioner.
Swann said the community appreciates what the staff and members of law enforcement and court system are able to do at the center. “We want you to see what goes on here and see what is unique here,” he told the group.
Ramsey said thanked O’Day for taking time to come to Maryville. “The Children’s Advocacy Center is a wonderful place,” he said.
Hughes said she was grateful that Rep. Swann and Rep. Ramsey wanted to bring O’Day to visit the center. Hughes said she hoped the visit would give O’Day a better understanding of what happens at the Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center. “When there are issues, or she has questions, my hope is she will feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling us,” she said.
O’Day said the visit is part of a process she is going through to make the entire department more efficient. “We’ve been going around to different communities. We’re taking a look at ourselves and trying to get a lot of input,” she said. “I love Blount County. This is a great community. People know how to join together to make things happen.”
Art Swann asked O’Day why, if a mother is on drugs and has a child, why is the child not tested. “If you’ve already detected drugs in the mother’s system, why not test the child?” he asked.
O’Day said there are two sides to every situation. “If women know every child is screened, they may not get the pre-natal care they need,” she said. “People in more difficult circumstances get screened more than others in less difficult circumstances.”
O’Day said another trend being seen is that children are being born addicted to pain killers. “You get a lot of attention to methamphetamines and prescription medication but drinking during pregnancy does cause birth defects,” she said. “Young women are drinking and using drugs in more numbers now during their child-bearing years.”
Peggy Kiser recently joined the board of the New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center, and she thanked O’Day for visiting. “I’m really impressed with how well these agencies mesh,” she said.
Hughes said the staff and those agency representatives work to ensure the safety of children. “It is good for the kids, and it is good for the community,” she said.
Swann said O’Day is taking the proper approach in getting advice at the grassroots level. “We very appreciate Commission O’Day’s hands-on attitude,” he said. “That’s critical.”