Child advocates come together for 'Champions 4 Children' Conference

Child advocates come together for conference

ABINGDON, Va. - Three southwest Virginia communities rank in the top 15 statewide for child abuse cases. The remaining communities in the region also rank higher than the state average. Each day, several groups of people work to help those children by trying to reduce those numbers. On Tuesday, the groups came together for the Champions 4 Children Conference.

The number of child abuse cases in the region is growing. Last year alone, Highlands Community Services saw 253 new child abuse cases. Many of the new cases involve sexual abuse.

"Even though it feels like a very safe place and we like to think of it as a safe place. Statistically, it's not just a safe place," Highlands Community Services Development and Advancement Manager Kathi Roark said.

The community service board's executive director Jeffrey Fox said the increase is so large, Highlands Community Services is constructing a new campus to house additional staff.

"Something is going on within the community that is creating significant problems in the homes. We are at a point where we are needing to expand daily," Fox said.

Several areas rank among the highest in the state for child abuse cases. According to Highlands Community Services, Smyth County, Washington County, and the City of Bristol are all ranked within the top 15. That's why they say the Champions 4 Children Conference is so vital. If people know what to look for, they can help stop the cycle.

"That's the reason we do this. Most children get better," Roark said.

Among speakers at the conference was former FBI Special Agent Ken Lanning. Special Agent Lanning has consulted on thousands of cases involving crimes against children for 40 years.

Special Agent Lanning said, "Somewhere around 90 percent of children are victimized by either a family member of an acquaintance."

He told us his work usually involves validating the stories of children reporting the crimes. He told us social media makes it even harder to identify potential predators.

"Somebody you met on the internet: is that a stranger or an acquaintance?" Special Agent Lanning said.

Highlands Community Services' new children's campus will be located near the Coomes Center in Abingdon. It will feature an alternative school and resources for case management. It is expected to be opened by January of 2017.

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