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Butterfly Bridge encourages heightened awareness

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Butterfly Bridge Children’s Advocacy Center has seen a decrease in child abuse cases in the past couple of months. However, Executive Director Jana Zuelzke said the decrease in reported cases raises concerns that children who have been abused may not have anyone they can trust to report the incident to.

“The concern that we had when the kids weren’t going back to school was that there might be an increase in abusive situations, not every home is a safe home … what we saw along with organizations across the country was that (child abuse) reports really went down, especially in March and April,” Zuelzke said. “… What we all think, as professionals who have been doing this a long time, is that children did not have access to a trusted adult … because they weren’t going anywhere else.”

She said it was important for “every person in our community to be very in tune to the children in their life … and let them (children) know that they can be that trusted adult.”

Zuelzke said reported cases will likely increase as students go back to school, and children who may have been abused are around adults they feel that they can talk to about what happened.

“We feel like it is going to be a very busy fall, unfortunately,” Zuelzke said.

She encourages adults to know the possible signs of abuse. These can be found on the Butterfly Bridge website at butterflybridgecac.org/resourcesabuseindicators.

Last year, a little more that 1,700 services were offered at the Chiton County office. Some of these services were for children who had first been provided services in a previous year and were continuing to receive counseling or advocacy services as their case went through the court system. There were 149 new cases that Butterfly Bridge was involved with last year.

As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in June, Zuelzke said the office is seeing an increase in the number of forensic interviews.

“A lot of the cases we’re seeing are involving things like online solicitation of kids, abuse between siblings,” Zuelzke said. “There have been I know a lot of runaway situations.”

With children and other community members on their electronic devices more while staying at home, Zuelzke said she anticipated an increase of online crimes against children.

Zuelzke recommended that parents have measures in place on their child’s devices “to protect them from harmful sites.”

“When children are on their devices, they should do it in an area where there are other people, other family members, not alone in their room because that tends to be when the bad things happen,” Zuelzke said. “… Parents having conversations with them about the dangers, about what to do if someone were to solicit them online that don’t not keep it a secret tell them (parents), and they can help deal with that.”

The organization has continued to serve children and collect information for law enforcement during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Forensic interviews continued to be done in-person with distancing and disinfecting measures in place, but counseling and advocacy services went to digital platforms.

“We were very quick to make sure we were going to be able to provide services to kids and their families because now more than ever with all the extra stress we really felt like we needed to be that constant for them,” Zuelzke said.

As restrictions have lifted, Butterfly Bridge has opened the office and is gradually returning to offering in-person services.

“We are continuing to do a lot of the telemental health with those clients that that was working well with,” Zuelzke said. “… We are very serious about making sure we are keeping the staff and the clients and the families that we serve safe and healthy. As a part of that, we are only seeing one family in the office at a time.”

The sessions have also been scheduled with time in between for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.