What is a
Children's Advocacy Center?
"To understand what a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is, you must understand what children face without one. Without a CAC, the child may end up having to tell the worst story of his or her life over and over again, to doctors, cops, lawyers, therapists, investigators, judges, and others. They may have to talk about that traumatic experience in a police station where they think they might be in trouble, or may be asked the wrong questions by a well-meaning teacher or other adult that could hurt the case against the abuser."
"When police or child protective services believe a child may be experiencing abuse, the child is brought to the CAC—a safe, child-focused environment—by a caregiver or other “safe” adult. At the CAC, the child tells their story once to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask in a way that does not not retraumatize the child. Then, a team that includes medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to help the child based on the interview. CACs offer therapy and medical exams, plus courtroom preparation, victim advocacy, case management, and other services. This is called the multidisciplinary team (MDT) response and is a core part of the work of CACs."
(National Children's Alliance, 2021)
National Children's Alliance. (2021, March 03). How the cac model works.
Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/cac-model/
Hope Haven Says Thank You!
By: Isabelle Hall
February 10, 2021
Hope Haven Children’s Advocacy Center would like to extend a huge thank you to the members of the community who supported our mission during this year’s winter campaign. “This year’s winter campaign was extremely successful, particularly given the difficulties of the past year. The funds raised go directly to providing important services to children who have been abused and also supports families in need throughout the community through some of the ongoing programs many citizens associate with Hope Haven”, says Hope Haven’s Executive Director, John James.
Hope Haven Children’s Advocacy Center, which was opened originally in 1995 as a shelter, now serves children
and families in Hancock and Pearl River Counties as a Child Advocacy Center (CAC). As a CAC, Hope Haven’s
primary mission is to serve children who have experienced sexual abuse or severe physical abuse. The agency
has specially trained staff who provide forensic interviews, parenting classes for the non offending caregiver,
advocacy, and referrals for forensic medical exams and mental health services. The CAC prides themselves on
being a “hub” for all the services a child needs after experiencing severe abuse. The Hope Haven team works
closely with law enforcement, the court, the District Attorney’s Office, specially trained medical providers, and
all other services the child works with throughout the case investigation and prosecution process. The agency
also offers child sexual abuse prevention training, outreach events, and other services as needed to serve the
people of Hancock and Pearl River Counties.
All services at Hope Haven are provided to the client free of charge. Donations received during the winter
fundraiser helps pay for forensic interviews, counseling services, parenting classes and case advocacy.
Hope Haven sees over 300 children a year for forensic interviews, each interview is estimated to cost CAC’s
around $400. Counseling services for a child can cost $100 or more for an hour of counseling. Hope Haven
serves these children and their families without regard to their ability to pay. They cover all fees if the family is
unable to pay them or have no insurance. Hope Haven relies on grants and donations to continue to provide these
essential services throughout the year.
Donations to Hope Haven also cover the back to school and Christmas giving initiatives each year for families in Hancock County. These donations also support our ability to help any Hancock County family, whether referred through the CAC or not, with financial support for clothing, utilities, rent and food when needed. While these are not the main mission of Hope Haven in its current role as a Child Advocacy Center these programs continue and are widely utilized each year. Local schools, CPS and other agencies often refer clients to Hope Haven for this sort of support. In December Hope Haven was able to help a CPS worker get last minute funds for groceries the day before Christmas for her client and the client’s children when no other last minute support could be found.
Hope Haven’s winter fundraiser was social distancing friendly and came right to the donor’s mailbox. The agency has done a winter mailout over the past few years as a way to help meet their end of the year fundraising goals. This year was a little different. “We had to cancel all of our normal big fundraising events this year due to COVID-19. We knew this campaign needed to be special”, says Outreach Specialist Isabelle Hall. The staff at Hope Haven worked with North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis to host a poster contest. The theme of Hope Haven’s outreach this year was “Be a Hero”. Each contestant was asked to create themselves as a hero. Hope Haven provided materials to the teachers for the students as well as a short lesson plan to help teach children about safety, courage, bullying, and helping others. The winners of the contest received a special prize pack with school supplies, a new backpack, and vouchers from local businesses. The winners also were featured on this year’s winter campaign card. The children’s responses were heartwarming.
Deja, a 5th grader featured a hero that said “A hero doesn't need a cape,
a true hero helps people in need.” Brandyn, a 4th grader, featured a hero
with the power of teleportation so she could teleport to protect children
from getting abused. The hero’s features on the card put out the call to
adults to have the heart of a hero, and do what they can to help others
and protect children too.
James issues this message to the community, “Thank you to the community
members who gave financial support this year. We are deeply grateful and
humbled by your support. Your contributions go directly to help protect children
and families by helping to pay for services that lead to healing and a path to justice.
Your donations also help families in need in Hancock County in a variety of other ways
by helping us support families in their time of need though the programs many citizens
have come to know Hope Haven for over the years”
Hope Haven is always looking for more community members to join the mission and give any way they can. Online donations can be made at www.hopehavencac.com/donate. If you are interested in volunteering or serving on the Board of Directors please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Omegle, what parents don't know
By: Isabelle Hall, Outreach Specialist
February 2, 2021
Parents have often heard, and used the term “stranger danger”, but do they know how to protect their children from strangers online? Omegle is a website, app, and now facebook program that advertises the ability to talk to strangers. The website was created in 2009, however, over the past year Omegle has been rising in popularity in the US. Children and adults alike are home and on the internet now more than ever due to COVID-19. As an outreach specialist, my goal is to find ways to educate parents and help protect children. I came across a flyer for Omegle educating parents. The flyer suggested parents try Omegle before allowing their children to use the site. So, out of curiosity, and wanting to provide accurate recommendations to parents, I decided to try it out myself.
Omegle allows the user to chat by text or video with a randomly paired stranger. There are no accounts, profiles, or names, just “Stranger”. The website is suggested towards individuals 18 and older. However, it invites children 13 and up to use the platform with “parents permission”. Unfortunately, there are no profiles or safechecks to monitor users age. There are 2 buttons, “chat” and “video”on the startup screen. There is a disclaimer that the video is monitored with an option for an unmonitored video instead. There is also an option for “College Chat” which requires a college email address, and a special interests chat option. The interests chat option allows the user to enter in a number of interests and be paired up with others that share that interest. So, what happens once you pair with a stranger?
I decided to run an experiment. 100 chats (messaging, no video), no specified interests, and see what kind of people I would come across. I had an inkling that I would come across some adult “R” rated content, but held a hope that it would be few and far between. Something that ideally, the children on the site could quickly pass by and ignore. However, the results of my experiment were quite disturbing.
I kept a tally of each chat, placing it into the category of either rated “R” or “PG”. The criteria for an “R” rating was that the chat became sexually explicit within a few messages. The “PG” category were chats that at least at surface level, seemed harmless enough.
Secondly, I wanted to answer two other questions, “Why do people use Omegle?” and “Are young children being exploited or taken advantage of on this site?”
The first question was answered by asking users that were genuinely interested in carrying on a conversation. The second was addressed by posing as a 13 year old girl when paired with males 18 or older.
Out of 100 text chats, 82 of them were classified as rated “R”. Only 18 were classified on a surface level as “PG”. I clicked the “new chat” button 100 times, and 82 of those times exposed me to explicit sexual content. One of the first things that most chats started with was establishing male or female, and age. The users use “M” for male and “F” for female. Many chats did not even begin with a greeting, only an inquiry into the age and gender. I realized that this was because most users are looking for a partner to initiate sexual conversation with. Some were more coy, asking what my best feature was, then “shyly” stating that theirs was their genitalia. Others were bold, saying that they were “horny” within the first few messages. If I was able to establish age and a general conversation before the suggestions, I posed as a 13 year old girl. Thankfully, there were some who immediately ended the conversation, or said “you are too young”. I came clean and thanked the ones who backed off. Dimly though, there were men who did not back off. Who continued to pressure the “13 year old girl” to reveal personal information and participate in sexual conversation. Most asked to be added on the app “SnapChat”, a photo and chat sending app or Facebook. Once the users realized they were not going to get what they hoped for, many ended the conversation. The ones that stayed long enough, I revealed that I was actually 23, and that what they are pursuing is very wrong and in most places illegal. This ended the chat. Unfortunately, the disturbing findings did not end there. Another large portion of the chats were actually not humans at all, but “bots”, programmed chat users that send out automated messages. These messages all included their age, gender, tagline, and a link. The tagline was always something enticing and sexual, inviting the user to click the link to see what they were describing, or to “exchange” with them. The link’s were often shortened so as to not reveal the hosting website. However, some showed a “Kik'' address which was cited by the NY times in 2017 as a platform frequented for child pronogroapy and exploitation and has been shown to be a dangerous site. (See the link below)
Learn more about the Dangers of KIK from Alabama Prosecutor
It has been established that 82% of the users on this website are either bots, or strictly there for sex. What about the other 18%?
On the rare occasion that I was paired with a stranger who was willing to converse non-sexually. I asked why they used the site. The answers surprised me. One person used it as a way to cope with symptoms of ADHD, it provided fast paced activity to help occupy their mind while completing other tasks. Another user said that it helped them manage their social anxiety. Others said they wanted to let others know they were not alone, or used it as a way to connect during a pandemic. Several users from other countries outside of the United States explained that they use it to practice their conversational english. These people that came to use the site for the intended purpose, shared in my frustration with the bots and rampant sexting bids.
As mentioned above, there is a spot to include interests to help with matching. I tried a small sample of these with the interests of “school” and “college”. The ratio of PG to R was better this way. The ones that matched with “school” tended to be younger though. There was even one young boy asking for help on math homework. The “college” matches tended to be the sexually oriented ones.
Omegle shows the general number of users at any given time. In the times that I completed this experiment there were anywhere between 50-60 thousand or more online at that moment.
This does include video, not just chat.
So what about video? The site does have a disclaimer that the video is monitored, there is not to be anything sexual, yet they cannot efficiently monitor, and that people are bound to “misbehave”. There are many YouTubers and other celebrities that use Omegle video to create content for their channels. They may do something bizarre like have animals in the video, or simply surprise users that they get to chat with a celebrity. One 5th grader I spoke with said that she learned about Omegle from watching her favorite YouTubers. These YouTube videos at times will elude to the darker side of Omegle. They may show clips of them gasping or saying “I did not want to see that”, hinting that they saw some form of nudity. It is distressing to think about the rates of R classified to PG content on the video option of Omegle. This was not something that I felt comfortable subjecting myself to, even as an adult.
As a grown, married, adult, many of these conversations were uncomfortable, and gross. I did not allow the conversations to move past the confirmation of sexual vs. innocent. However, children do not necessarily have the same ability to just end a conversation that is heading down a bad path and yes, children are using this site. In my experiment I came across several children who were under 15, and even more in the 16-17 range. In fact, I myself used this site once when I was around age 13. I distinctly remember the conversation pressured me to describe sexual things about myself. This is the first time I felt violated by an adult. The development period of 13-17 is one of bad choices, exploration, budding sexuality, raging hormones, and that is just to start. These pre-teens and teens may not have the sense or desire to end these chats from predators. They may feel excited that someone is taking an interest in them, or that someone wants to befriend them. This may lead to divulging information such as phone number, real name, or location. We have all heard the horror stories. Even if they do not share, they are still being exposed to predatory actions that violate their innocence. I asked one 16 year old if she or her friends have ever used the site. She admitted her friends had. When asked about “strange” or “uncomfortable” content, she said that her friends had some bad experiences and stopped using the site.
I looked to reachout to Omegle customer service, but hit a dead end. It seems as if the creators behind Omegle do not want to be bothered. Even the Facebook page for Omegle has only been updated a few times over the past few years and the messenger link starts a new Omegle chat. Omegle is aware of the dangerous aspects of their platform. The intro screen has the following message:
“Omegle (oh·meg·ull) is a great way to meet new friends, even while practicing social distancing. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time. Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
The creators know the dangers, but do parents even know their children are using it? Have parents even heard of it? There are no profiles, no email connection, one click is all it takes. I interviewed 10 different parents from different backgrounds, with children varying in ages. None of the parents had heard of Omegle. Once they asked their children, some of the children did know about it, and knew friends that had used it. Parents, I urge you. Take the time to talk to your children about internet safety. Monitor their use closely.
For more information on how to talk to children about internet safety please visit: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html
Omegle Statement and Disclaimer:
“Omegle (oh·meg·ull) is a great way to meet new friends, even while practicing social distancing. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time. Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.
If you prefer, you can add your interests, and Omegle will look for someone who's into some of the same things as you instead of someone completely random.”
Parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist you in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. If you are interested in learning more about these protections, information is available at http://kids.getnetwise.org/tools/ as well as a number of other Internet sites that provide information on this form of protection.
* Omegle video chat is moderated. However, moderation is not perfect. You may still encounter people who misbehave. They are solely responsible for their own behavior.
Photo of actual chat on Omegle
Photo of actual chat on Omegle
Photo of actual chat on Omegle
Photo of actual chat on Omegle
Retrieved from: www.omegle.com
2020 "Be a Hero" Poster Contest
December 2, 2020
Hope Haven Children's Advocacy Center has named the winners of its 2020 "Be a
Hero"; poster contest hosted for North Bay Elementary School students.
The winners are fifth graders Deja Burge, Emma Snowden and Isaiah Hoyer
and fourth grader Brandyn Williams.
Hope Haven Children's Advocacy Center provides essential services for
children who have been abused and neglected in Hancock and Pearl River
"This contest was not only a chance for a fun activity, but also a door for
important conversations with the students about safety, courage, bullying,
kindness and helping others,” said, Isabelle Hall, Hope Haven outreach
specialist. Hope Haven asked the students to create a poster showing what
it means to be a hero. The winners chosen displayed not only traditional
"hero" characteristics such as bravery, but also kindness, empathy, and
selflessness, Hall said.
"Not all heroes wear capes,” said student Emma Snowden. “Some of
my biggest heroes are doctors and veterans because they save and
help the rest of us"
Brandyn Williams said, “If I'm in danger, I need someone to help. If other people
need help, I can be the hero. It's my responsibility to be a hero. I might be the only
one that people are counting on.”
The students’ winning artwork will be displayed on the Hope Haven 2020 Holiday
Card, showing the bravery and resilience of children.
Hope Haven thanks Dolce Bakeshop, Sonic, Pop Brothers, Papa Johns,
McDonalds, Dominos, and Rollie Pollie for their prize pack sponsorship.
Help support the brave children served at Hope Haven. Click the "donate" tab above to be a hero too!
HOPE HAVEN CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTER
WELCOMES JOHN JAMES AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
November 16. 2020
The Board of Directors of Hope Haven Children’s Advocacy Center is please to announce their selection
of John James as its Executive Director effective Monday, November 16, 2020.
“Hope Haven has a wonderful opportunity for growth at this juncture, and a leader is
needed who understands who we are now, someone who understands who we are now,
someone who understands the Children’s Advocacy Center model and someone who
is very knowledgeable in all aspects of child welfare. John James is that person,”
stated Kathleen Stieffel, Board President. “Mr. James comes highly recommended from
the state level and is the right person to guide this organization and nurture the
important relationships needed to promote the growth of our programs and our future.
We have renewed hope and look forward to great things under his leadership.”
Family focused with deep leadership capabilities, James, husband to Christina and
father of three is already a well-known and highly respected member of the
non-profit community. With almost thirty years’ experience in child protection in
Alabama and Mississippi, he brings a solid foundation to continue the growth and
outreach of Hope Haven Children’s Advocacy Center.
County Court Judge Trent Favre says of James, “I was so excited to hear the news! I think
John will be a great addition to Hope Haven given his extensive background in child
welfare, and I am looking forward to working with him. In my previous experience with him,
he has demonstrated that he is a very capable and knowledgeable leader.
He is an effective communicator and problem solver. I promise to work
closely with him to ensure his success but more importantly, the success of Hope Haven.”
James began his career in Mobile, Alabama in 1993 and worked in several different
capacities in Alabama over the next twenty-five years. He spent his last three years in charge of Alabama’s nationally
recognized foster care and CPS systems. He retired from the state of Alabama and was hired by the state
of Mississippi to serve as the Field Operations Director for the eleven coastal counties. During his tenure, Mississippi implemented many reforms and has received national recognition for the reduction
of over 1,200 children in foster care in his regions alone along with a record number of adoptions. Mr.
James has extensive experience working with Child Advocacy Centers throughout Alabama and
Mississippi as well as the National CAC in Huntsville, Alabama.
James stated, “I am honored that the Hope Haven Board of Directors selected me for this position, and I
look forward to serving the children and families of Hancock and Pearl River Counties. I look forward to
working in the community to strengthen our work and to find potential new avenues for expansion. It’s
a very exciting time for me, and I cannot thank them enough.”
Lorraine Werner, Administrative Assistant and Family Advocate for Hope Haven for over fourteen years
has very capably served as Interim Director since July of this year. “We are fortunate to have someone
of Mr. James’ caliber and experience step up to lead Hope Haven,” says Werner, “We are at a critical
moment, and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our programs and continue to
Hope Haven Children’s Advocacy Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for victims
of childhood trauma and abuse. Its mission is to be a haven of recovery and a path to justice for children
and their families. As the only Children’s Advocacy Center serving Hancock and Pearl River counties,
Hope Haven provides immediate intervention services to children and families affected by traumatic
events, specializing in providing forensic interviews, family advocacy, child sexual abuse prevention as
well as direct assistance to families in need.
Hope Haven also leads a multi-disciplinary task force (MDT) comprised of District Attorney, Joel Smith,
Assistant DA, Chris Daniel, Cynthia Chauvin of CASA, members of law enforcement, Child Protective
Services (CPS), Youth Court and medical professionals who collectively promote a strong collaborative
effort seeking justice for victims of abuse and their families.
Hope Haven has positioned themselves as a community leader advocating for abused and neglected
children in South Mississippi and are proud members of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi, the
National Children’s Alliance and the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.