Voices for Children is dedicated to being a place of safety and healing for children aged 0-18 who are victims of abuse – sexual, emotional or physical – and human trafficking. In the past year, the group has handled over 600 cases of sexual abuse that have occurred in every zip code, city and village in Genesee County. Child abuse knows no nationality, location, race, age, income bracket or gender. “Every year, we have cases in every Genesee County jurisdiction,” states Claudnyse D. Holloman, Executive Director. “The number of boys and girls who are victims is equal, and the perpetrators are not just men, they are women, also – moms, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, etc.” The mission of Voices for Children is healing, education and prevention of child physical and sexual abuse.
Voices for Children is a new organization created by the merger of the Weiss Child Advocacy Center and Priority Children. “Over the course of four years, the United Way approached both organizations to say that we were doing similar work and to propose that we could be stronger together,” informs Holloman. “For the last two years, the separate groups have been meeting to determine how we could make a bigger impact on community children together. The merger has allowed us to leverage more funds to provide even more services for child victims.”
When kids have been abused or abuse is suspected, the organization provides a safe place for a child to speak about it. They work closely with local law enforcement and Child Protective Services (CPS) to determine – through forensic interviews conducted in a child-friendly manner by a professional – whether abuse has occurred. Law enforcement and CPS observe the interview in a room, unbeknownst to the child. The child receives therapy and support throughout the heartbreaking ordeal. The organization works with the prosecutor’s office and volunteers to protect kids during any court proceedings and adoption, if needed, thereafter. The health and wellness of the child is paramount.
“Our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program is for kids who are placed in foster care because of abuse or neglect,” says Holloman. “The CASA is an adult volunteer who sees the child weekly, providing them with a consistent adult to rely on throughout the entire foster and adoption process. Our volunteers visit kids from foster home to foster home, attend school programs, speak with their teachers, talk them through a bad day and advocate for them in court. The volunteers have a relationship with the child akin to a grandparent or aunt, and they stay on the case until the child is permanently adopted or placed with their family or a relative,” Holloman explains. Voices for Children is always looking for volunteers for the CASA program and other services they administer. Volunteers are needed to facilitate support groups and to accompany kids during forensic interviews. There are many opportunities to impact a child in a positive way. “We are always looking for someone who has the time and passion to work with children and we have multiple volunteer opportunities,” states Holloman.
For two years, Voices for Children has had a Canine Advocate that has been a wonderful way to help kids to feel relaxed and secure when talking about their trauma in interviews or in court. “Daphne is, by far, everyone’s favorite staff member,” Holloman says, smiling. “We got her from Leader Dogs for the Blind. It was her God-given purpose to work with children. As soon as she sees the kids, she gets excited and they are excited to see her. There are times when kids don’t want to talk on the witness stand, but when Daphne is with them, they look at her and they talk to her about it. We have a stuffed Daphne toy that we give to children after they testify in court.”
“I look forward to the day when we can close
the door on the child sexual abuse part of what we do.
We want the cases of abuse in Genesee County to be zero.”
Claudnyse D. Holloman, Executive Director
When not working directly with kids, Voices for Children provides education and training for adults in the community aimed at abuse prevention and awareness. The organization holds community events where seminars address the different forms of abuse, how to recognize it and who to call. A “Darkness to Light” class teaches the appropriate response for adults to have when a child reports abuse. “It’s really important for people to know how to respond,” Holloman shares. “We don’t want our reactions to upset a child any more than they already are. We don’t want them to feel worse or guilty.” Voices for Children also trains law enforcement and CPS staff how to interact with a child who has been harmed, as well as how to deal with trauma that they, themselves, may have after dealing with multiple abuse cases. Voices for Children provides Mandatory Reporter Training for those in positions such as doctors, dentists, coaches, teachers and others who are obligated to report signs of abuse. For children, they conduct training in body safety and “good touch/bad touch.” For parents, the Safe Sleep education program trains them on the correct sleeping position for newborns in order to prevent accidental death. They also have a program to educate parents of kids affected by the water crisis. Holloman states that she will work with any group (such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or employees) and with individuals. She will go where she is needed.
Voices for Children is also focused on helping those dealing with the nightmare of human trafficking. This crime is big business in Michigan, due to its proximity to the Canadian border, and Genesee County has had far too many cases. “We have had cases in Grand Blanc, Flushing, Clio, Flint and elsewhere,” Holloman warns. “It really does happen everywhere.” Through the efforts of Voices for Children and other organizations such as the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force, law enforcement and the community have become more engaged and vigilant. Education is the key and Voices for Children offers an adult human trafficking prevention seminar, as well as a course about online safety for parents of teens and tweens. “We teach parents ways to talk to kids about the situations they might encounter online and teach them about the various mobile apps kids use to hide photos or conversations,” she adds. “Often, when we see human trafficking or child pornography cases, the parents had no idea that their child was engaging in these types of dangerous behaviors.” Holloman says that parents have to be aware of internet use, and also the mobile apps their kids are using. They include Kik, Instagram, Snapchat and a slightly lesser known app called Finstagram that is notorious for providing multiple accounts to one teen. There is also an app that looks like a simple calculator – Calculator Vault – created for hiding apps, photos and conversations.
Holloman states that they are working on a program to present in schools about the dangers online. For parents of teens, it is important to stress that they share no photos on their phones that are sexually explicit or illegal in nature. One way that teens can fall prey to human trafficking is through blackmail and sexploitation. Voices for Children has a group of teen volunteers who have gone through these experiences and can provide support to those struggling. Stress to your kids that if this is happening, they must go to the authorities and they will not be in trouble – that law enforcement knows they are a victim.
“When children come to us, we tell them that they are believed and are in a safe place,” Holloman says. “I look forward to the day when we can close the door on the child sexual abuse part of what we do. We want the cases of abuse in Genesee County to be zero.”
If you would like to schedule a training seminar for your staff, kids, or just for yourself, call 810.238.3333 or visit weissadvocacycenter.org/. All training is provided free of charge. Those wishing to volunteer to help kids in need are encouraged to sign up at the website, as well.
Photography by Kayce McClure