Recently, we were fortunate enough to take a tour of The Cricket Center in Berlin, an organization that we had heard of in passing, but had admittedly never really engaged with. What we discovered was an amazing facility that serves as the only child advocacy center in all of Worcester County, a center that has completely transformed the process that child victims must go through.
We’ll start with a crash course in what The Cricket Center is. For starters, CRICKET stands for Children’s Resource Intervention Center, Kids Empowerment Team (CRICKET) and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Modeled after the National Child Advocacy Center, the Cricket Center is just one of two accredited centers (by the National Children’s Alliance) on the Eastern Shore. The main objective of The Cricket Center is, “to reduce trauma to child victims by bringing all necessary local agencies together.” To further this mission, The Cricket Center includes child protection workers, medical and mental health professionals, local law enforcement, Atlantic General Hospital, Life Crisis, Inc., and the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office. Together, the collaborative force facilitates the investigation and prosecution of those who commit these crimes in Worcester County while seeking to take every measure to minimize the trauma of abuse for the child victim and the non-offending family members. Furthermore, the team works to prevent further victimization while also promoting emotional healing for the victims.
The system is a collaborative one, calling for all of the aforementioned agencies to work together under one roof to reduce trauma to victims of child abuse by providing a safe and neutral environment that includes support, crisis intervention, trauma based therapy, and medical intervention. By providing one location for law enforcement and Child Protective Services to conduct and observe forensic interviews, The Cricket Center has been able to successfully decrease the trauma that accompanies these first necessary stages with children who are alleged victims of crimes.
The Cricket Center did not always operate this way; in fact, it wasn’t until a task force was formed in 2006 that the idea for a comprehensive, collaborative approach was introduced in Worcester County. According to Cricket Center Program Manager, Wendy Myers, “children could potentially be retraumatized by conducting investigations in the traditional way that Worcester and every other county conducted investigations.” Prior to The Cricket Center, victims were typically pulled out of class to speak to a Child Protective Services worker and returned to class. Later, they would go to the emergency room for examination, and most likely the State’s Attorney’s Office or police station to once again tell their story. Finally, they would take the stand in court to – once again – tell their traumatic story. All in all, a child was repeating their story of abuse multiple times and in a variety of daunting settings. By 2009, The Cricket Center was well underway with their own safe haven in Berlin. By having all aspects of the process under one roof, in a neutral and safe environment, the level of trauma can (and has been) drastically be reduced.
In addition, The Cricket Center provides a variety of services, including 24-hour response, on-site forensic medical exams by a SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) nurse, on-site therapist, on-site forensic interviewers, on-site family advocate, community education on child abuse, comprehensive assessment and investigation of child neglect, abuse, and the prosecution of offenders when warranted by the evidence. “Every single child abuse referral in the county comes to us,” said Myers. All services are provided free of charge to families.
Locally, 93 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Worcester County in 2015:
- Of the 93 investigations conducted in 2015, 36% were reported in Ocean City, 29% in Pocomoke, 13% in Ocean Pines, 10% in Berlin, 8% in Snow Hill, and 4% in other areas of the county.
- The average age of reported victims of child abuse in Worcester County is 8 years old.
- In 2015, The Cricket Center provided 535 hours of trauma based therapy.
- A total of 38 sex offenders were identified.
- Convicted child sex offenders were sentenced to jail for a total of 146 combined years.
Despite the staggering numbers, it is comforting to know that Worcester County has a Child Advocacy Center like The Cricket Center, where children can begin their path to healing. A part of that path includes allowing the kids to make their own handprint tile to add to the wall (pictured above). “It’s a fun thing for them to do while they are here but it also shows them that they aren’t alone,” explained Myers.
The Cricket Center also holds fundraisers throughout the year, which is a terrific way for the community to get involved and help The Cricket Center raise funds to balance out what the center does not receive from their limited grant funding. “In the State of Maryland, we are required to have a child advocacy center, but it’s a non-funded mandate,” explained Myers (which is why many counties do not have a center like The Cricket Center). “We live in a very generous community,” continued Myers, speaking to the incredible support they receive from the community during their fundraising events, such as the “Jamaican a Difference Mon,” event held each year at Seacrets or the annual Walk for Kids on the Boardwalk in Ocean City. For more information on the upcoming events, including how you can help by volunteering your time or donations, visit www.thecricketcenter.com or visit their Facebook page (The Cricket Center). We encourage all of readers to get involved and to be a part of the solution!