(Aug. 30, 2019) The Cricket Center, which provides child advocacy services in Worcester County, marked 10 years at its Berlin location this week, with plans percolating for an expanded footprint.
Executive Director Wendy Myers said the Cricket Center marked the occasion with an open house celebration on Tuesday evening for elected officials, community members and colleagues.
Before moving into the Berlin address in August 2009, Myers said allegations of child abuse were investigated by various agencies without a unified front.
“In 2006-2007, we began looking at models for child advocacy centers,” she said. “We modeled ours after the national model, which is the Huntsville, Alabama National Children’s Advocacy Center.”
Prior to opening the Cricket Center, Myers said all agencies authorized to investigate child abuse claims conducted inquiries separately, which often served to traumatize the child multiple times.
“That’s why there was a lot of recantation that would happen,” she said. “Kids would say, ‘forget it, this didn’t happen to me, I don’t want to tell this story again.’”
Myers said the intent of the Cricket Center at the time of its founding was to foster improved investigations and protect children by removing offenders from the street.
“It’s the most traumatic thing, hopefully, that ever happens to the child,” she said.
The Cricket Center provides a central location for all child advocacy partners, starting with Atlantic General Hospital, which provides medical intervention.
Also, the Life Crisis Center provides family advocates and mental health intervention, with members of Child Protective Services and Worcester County Sheriff’s Office detectives also on hand.
“We provide in house trauma-based therapy here at the Cricket Center for our child victims,” she said. “It’s cost-effective for Worcester County, because we had all these different agencies conducting separate investigations.”
Myers said the Worcester County State’s Attorney Office also works in conjunction with the center’s efforts.
“Our State’s Attorney [Kris Heiser] is very involved in this process,” she said.
Despite the array of partners at the table, Myers said the family advocate provided by the Life Crisis Center is the lynchpin of the operation.
“The person that kind of holds everything together through this whole process is our family advocate ,” she said.
The family advocate comes into play after law enforcement and Child Protective Services have concluded investigations and court proceedings are forthcoming.
“It could be a year before we go to court,” she said. “What happens is families start to feel disconnected [and] they move on from the trauma.”
The family advocate serves as a point of contact to update victims and their families about pending court actions.
Although removing child predators from society to reduce recidivism is critical, Myers said there is a flip side to the coin that’s just as vital.
“We’re also in the business of making sure children and families are healed,” she said.
Connecting families with resources is also a significant part of the mission, Myers said.
In 2012, the Cricket Center was accredited by the National Child Alliance.
“It’s the accrediting body for Child Advocacy Centers in the U.S. and nationally,” she said.
During its decade at the Berlin office, the Cricket Center has received more than 10,000 referrals for potential abuse, which launched 609 investigations tied to physical abuse and 870 for child sexual abuse, Myers said.
In total, the Cricket Center has provided roughly 8,200 hours of therapy for victims, with prosecutions resulting in a combined 1,297 years of incarceration.
“We also take in neglect referrals,” she said.
Mirroring national statistics, about 80-90 percent of reported cases in Worcester County involves abuse from a person known and trusted by the child, Myers said.
“We talk about the scary strangers, but the actual fact is that rarely happens,” she said. “It does happen, but generally speaking, children are groomed and there’s a long relationship.”
To help combat the behavior, Myers said law enforcement, educators, bus drivers and medical personnel are required by law to report potential abuse cases.
In Maryland, Child Advocacy Centers are required by law but not state funded, Myers said.
“It’s mandated in the state to have a multi-discipline team and to have access to a Child Advocacy Center for children, but it’s a non-funded mandate,” she said.
Numerous counties in Maryland operate without the required center because of that, Myers said.
“We’re so lucky in Worcester County to have such a generous community and our county commissioners are very supportive of our program,” she said.
Additionally, financial backing from Ocean City and Berlin, along with private donations, have proven crucial to maintaining operations, Myers said.
Looking ahead, Myers said a new space would be sought as the program’s current 2,300 square feet of space is becoming limiting.
Before that search begins, however, funding partners will have to be secured, Myers said.
“We hate to leave our home here at Atlantic General, but there’s just not enough space for us,” she said.