The West Virginia Children Advocacy Network (WVCAN) changes the world one child at a time and is helping to transform the future that awaits them.
For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as WVCAN Board president, visiting child advocacy centers from McDowell County to Monongalia County, from Clarksburg to Beckley to Paden City, where I met community volunteers so dedicated to child victims of abuse it brought me to tears.
Over the years, first as a WVCAN volunteer, then as president, I’ve worked with the organization’s dedicated staff of only three.
Based in Charleston and a model for nonprofit excellence at the national level, WVCAN supports hundreds of front-line professionals at 20 child advocacy centers across the state.
Trained to work together, child advocacy-center teams provide a coordinated, community-based response to allegations of abuse. They are living proof that humankind can be both human and kind — the kind of individuals C.S. Lewis was referring to when he said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.”
Over the past decade, more than 20,000 children have walked through the doors of a local child advocacy center.
If we parse WVCAN statistics — such as the organization’s rapid growth from 2 to 20 child advocacy centers in less than a decade or the more than 3,000 children across West Virginia served by such centers last year — data show the collaborative, multidisciplinary center model works best. But data is the end of a story that begins with the courage of one child who is in pain.
WVCAN recently held its 10th anniversary celebration at the Culture Center in Charleston to honor the front-line work of countless individuals — investigators, Child Protective Service workers, prosecutors, treatment professionals and survivors themselves.
WVCAN Executive Director Emily Chittenden-Laird painted a picture of what the next 10 years will look like:
n The WVCAN-child advocacy center network will maintain the highest quality and further expand to provide statewide coverage.
n The restorative services child advocacy centers offer will be within an hour’s drive for any child in West Virginia who needs them.
n Teachers and other child-serving professionals will be trained in ways to better recognize the signs of abuse and how best to respond.
n WVCAN will take its locally developed SHINE campaign to the national level, bringing child abuse out of the shadows, helping children heal and families thrive.
We all have our reasons for why we are WVCAN volunteers, but no good explanation for how someone can hurt a child to begin with.
Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned from WVCAN and the work our centers do every day is the “why” doesn’t matter.
As both “human” and “kind,” our mandate is to help the most vulnerable, not to understand why power was abused or trust violated in the first place.
Meanderings like that send us down a rabbit hole of circular arguments but don’t stop the pain. Worse still, if everything can be justified, “empathy” becomes apathy — i.e., an excuse for doing nothing.
Children’s stories don’t have happy “endings.” They unfold, then blend with ours to become the fabric of a society we create for ourselves.
Though I am stepping down as WVCAN Board president, I am not leaving the movement: children are a blessing whose value we must recognize and proclaim.
Or as Winnie the Pooh says, “How lucky I am to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Keep up the great work, WVCAN! We need your help, too.
Anyone can visit www.wvcan.org and join the fight on behalf of West Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
Mimi Wilson is outgoing president of the WVCAN Board of Directors.