Here in McAlester Oklahoma….The Child Advocacy Center is named Ryan’s House….named after Ryan Luke, a 2-year-old McAlester boy who died in 1995 from blunt force trauma to the head. In your community wherever you are reading this from or in Canada, the Child Advocacy Center has a different name… but trust me it’s there in your community….doing God’s work. What exactly are Child Advocacy Centers? This is what is posted at the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
“Children’s advocacy centers (CACs) are community-based, child-friendly, and trauma-informed organizations that coordinate a multidisciplinary response to child maltreatment allegations. CACs deliver a best practice model that bring together, often in one location, child protective services investigators, law enforcement, forensic interviewers, prosecutors, family advocates, and medical and mental health professionals to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to victims and their caregivers. Children’s advocacy centers have found success providing a safe, neutral environment for children and their families where the child’s well-being is a priority. At a CAC, children can speak to a forensic interviewer who is trained to understand child development, how to manage bias, and is knowledgeable in addressing secondary trauma and other best practices for interviewing children.” -Child Welfare Information Gateway.
I look directly at the Executive Director of Ryan’s House, Ms. Jessika Whitman and was afraid to ask this question, but proceeded with caution. Are there any stories that broke your heart?-Dominic Carter
“Yes. And well, everyone of them does. To be honest. I mean, there’s no way I cannot connect or feel some kind of way. I’m super empathetic anyway. But, there’s no way I could not think about every child that came through… there on my mind every single night. But vicarious trauma, which we know is common in this field, I have a daughter who is visually impaired and blind in her left eye. And so when I see children come through who have special needs or anything of that nature, those are always difficult or a little extra difficult to deal with. And so that goes back into making sure that we that are in this profession are taking care of ourselves as well.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
“And that brings up a good question. How do you balance? You’re a mom yourself? Yes. Yet you’re an Extended Mom, if you will, as the executive director of Ryan’s House here in McAlester, Oklahoma. So how do you balance your personal life as a mom when you’re dealing with kids that need tremendous help… all day long?”-Dominic Carter
“That’s a great question because it took me a while. And to be able to do that. I have to come home and literally shut down my mind and then go into Mom mode, and remember that I’m there for them. But as soon as I’m back at my desk in the morning, or actually, as soon as I wake up, I’m right back into what I have to do today, or what children I need to reach out to, but it really comes down to having to find a way to shut your mind down, because you cannot let both worlds live together, or it just wouldn’t work. It just, it would be miserable.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
“You ever receive telephone calls in the middle of the night?”-Dominic Carter
“I’m on call 24/7? So yes, we’ve had. So if there’s a severe case, as in sexual assault, or something of that nature that requires a medical exam, we come in anytime, or any other type that requires a child needing a safe place than our center is that place for them. So yes, I’m on call 24/7. And just like our welfare workers and our law enforcement officers.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
So when an adult woman has to go through a rape kit…That’s traumatizing in itself? Absolutely!!! -Jessika Whitman says in answering Dominic Carter
“So what happens in the event of a child? Do they have to go through the same thing?” -Dominic Carter
“They do? It’s not in a hospital setting. It’s in our facility. Actually, the CAC is the location for the exams or any of the assault exams, and the child comes in and again, we try our best to provide that child friendly environment. And we provide clothing even you know, toys or whatever, depending on what the ages. We try to provide any type of comfort items for them after the procedure is done. But yes, we are the location where these assault exams are done.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel the public needs to know about children advocacy centers? -Dominic Carter
“I don’t think the public realizes how, how hard we search for funding and for support, because it is a daily struggle to make sure that we have a budget that’s not only going to, we only have two individuals at our facility right now, working everything I’ve just talked about. So it is a daily struggle to find grants and to let the public know or our community know how much support we need…from it could be office supplies to exam kits, or even the curriculum I was talking about. Everything requires money, of course. And so the kits are very expensive. There’s nothing cheap in this world as far as law enforcement or evidence collection and things of that nature. So the financial aspects….That that’s a very tough one. That’s that’s the hardest part about being a nonprofit.–Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House You’ve also got to put on your fundraising hat and make sure that the money comes in.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
“Yes, I never thought I would try to be a salesperson growing up. But I feel like that’s the role I’ve stepped into his trying to show people what we do at the center. And boy, I’m always out there talking about Ryan’s House and to advocate for our center myself, and why we need these funds.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
While here in McAlester, Oklahoma. I’ve seen African Americans, Whites, Native Americans. I’m told that you have a large Hispanic community. You deal with kids in terms of all those different communities? -Dominic Carter
“Absolutely. Like I said, our larger percentage, and I’m sorry, I don’t have statistics right in front of me right now. But I do know that over 60% were tribal children. And then the rest were filtered in there as well. We’ve see children from every culture, every culture, and it’s, like I said, It’s mind boggling. I’m from this community and had no idea what goes on.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
“Tell me something good about the State of Oklahoma.” — Dominic Carter
“The best thing has actually been brought to my attention in the last few weeks. And that again, is teamwork. I have had everyone from every agency reaching out to me to let me know that they are there to support me. I think that goes through everything. That’s not just advocacy centers. We are such a helping state, we want everyone to succeed.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
And this is a Child Advocacy Center that is making tremendous progress in terms of helping kids and the community.
“So we’re actually working on getting our new website up. We just got a new location and that’s will be at RyansHousecac.org. And then we also have a Pay Pal where most of our donations come through, which is the Pittsburgh County Child Abuse effort. And it’s labeled PC care as for short, but again, anyone can always reach out to me as well. -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
My parting thoughts to Jessika were:
“I had a lovely time in town here in McAlester. I wish me, my wife Marilyn, and my son Dominic Jr, were here longer… but you’re a wonderful person. Thank you for the hospitality. Thank you more importantly for what you do on behalf of Children.” -Dominic Carter
Jessika with her contagious smile said:
“Thank you for coming all this way to share your important story and everything that you’ve spoken about today. We’re very blessed to have you here.” -Jessika Whitman/Executive Director of Ryan’s House
Folks if there ever was an organization around the country that needs our help financially….they are Children Advocacy Centers. Look up your local one…and certainly please help Ryan’s House in Oklahoma. They are all doing wonderful wonderful work. Here are Dominic’s book sites to order his book on these issues, “No Momma’s Boy,” and www.nomommasboy.com. Here is Dominic’s events site. Just Click here.