Yes, they CAN

The Child Abuse Network in Tulsa celebrates 25 years of healing.



Rose Turner, the effervescent managing director of the Child Abuse Network (CAN) in Tulsa, led a young boy back to the forensic interview room at Tulsa’s Children’s Advocacy Center. 

He had only one question.

“I watch ‘CSI’ every week. Is that what this is like?”

In her cheerful, reassuring voice, she whispered back.

“No, I promise it’s not.” 

Indeed, it is not. From the soothing fireplace and hypnotic fish tank in the center’s family room to the pretty pastels and popular teddy bear room, this is the antithesis of the sterile interrogation rooms on television. It’s a new beginning for many young victims of physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

The Children’s Advocacy Center (formerly the Justice Center) was built in 1992 to streamline child abuse investigations by housing a team of multi-disciplinary agencies. Along with CAN, they include a medical team from the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division, the Tulsa Police Department’s Child Crisis Unit and the District Attorney’s Office.

“This is like a one-stop shop for families, as well as (for) providing better information and communication among the professionals,” Turner says. “A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to do an investigation without this here, but there’s a big difference.”

Turner would know. She worked for OKDHS for approximately two decades before moving to CAN nine years ago. Prior to the Advocacy Center, young victims had to endure multiple interviews with law enforcement and welfare workers, in addition to the hours spent waiting in an emergency room for medical aid and evaluation. The process was incredibly traumatic for children and frighteningly inefficient.

To solve that problem, in 1986 the Junior League of Tulsa and six other agencies partnered to establish CAN. In 1988, CAN was incorporated and funded by the Junior League as a four-year project. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, CAN is Tulsa County’s only nonprofit child abuse intervention service. CAN assesses approximately 2,500 children annually, which is about one-third of the cases city-wide. 

A growing problem

The local news is saturated with troubling stories of child abuse and neglect — from toddlers wandering the streets alone at night to infants with broken bones. So it comes as no surprise that the number of substantiated child abuse cases has increased exponentially in Tulsa County over the past three years. It is a trend that has OKDHS so alarmed, it enlisted the help of Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation that works to provide, improve and prevent the need for foster care nationwide.

“We have never seen and served as many kids as we did last month, and I’ve been here since 1995,” says Barbara Findeiss, CAN’s executive director, referring to the 268 children CAN served in January. 

“I wish we knew what was going on out there,” she says. “Yes, some of it could be the economy. It could be a generational thing from parents who didn’t get the help themselves as children, but whatever it is, it’s stunning.”

Strengthening the theory of abuse as a generational issue, Findeiss and Turner have witnessed many parents revealing their own childhood abuse for the first time while their children are meeting with forensic interviewers. 

Two recent epidemics are completely reshaping the multidisciplinary team’s protocol.

“Meth came into our lives, or the resurgence of meth, and the other big thing on the horizon is human trafficking,” Findeiss says. “There is a very large task force in Tulsa County that’s working on it, and Rose (Turner) is an important part of that, in terms of the protocol in dealing with these kids and how we interface with them.”

The Child Abuse Network's team of multi-disciplinary agencies includes (back row) detective Jeanne MacKenzie, Child Crisis Unit; Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, chief of the Criminal Division of the District Attorney’s Office; Rose Turner, CAN managing director; (front row) Dr. Sarah J. Passmore, medical director, Child Abuse Pediatrics, School of Community Medicine, OU Tulsa; Barbara Findeiss, CAN executive director; and Janet Rhyne, child welfare supervisor, Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Despite all odds

Illness, mental health conditions, unsafe behavior and lower academic achievement are among other devastating potential consequences for an individual who is abused. 

The repercussions permeate society, not only in the form of emotional tragedy, but also as a huge economic burden. 

According to CAN, the effects of child abuse will cost the victim $210,000 in medical expenses, loss of productivity, child welfare, criminal justice and special education over a lifetime. It also costs Tulsa County $255 million each year through assistance from various entities.

In spite of the insurmountable odds she and her staff face on a daily basis, Findeiss speaks with a gentle, yet unbreakable enthusiasm about what they have accomplished with the financial help they receive.

“Tulsa is such a remarkable community,” she says. “There are no fees for services here. Everything we do is from philanthropic donations, grants, the Tulsa Area United Way and an allocation we get from the state, so we are constantly fundraising.” 

April is an important month at CAN. Not only is it National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, but it also is the time for the annual CANdlelight Ball fundraiser at the Mayo Hotel on April 26. In celebration of 25 years of giving hope to more than 31,000 children, CAN will honor the Junior League, whose original vision made all this possible.

“It is the community supporting CAN, which allows our co-location to happen — that one place where kids and professionals come,” Findeiss says. “It is not the DA’s job to co-house investigators, medical staff and mental health staff, nor is it DHS’. They don’t have the funds, so if we don’t do it, no one will.”

She’s right. Most of us change the channel at the first mention of child abuse on the nightly news. It’s too heinous to comprehend and easier to ignore. However, the heroes at CAN get up every morning to face the worst acts of humanity and tirelessly fight for the children of Tulsa and its surrounding counties.

“These kids are our future workforce, future leaders of our community,” Findeiss says. “If we don’t have hope for them, why in the world should they?”

 

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is defined by law as “harm, threatened harm, or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm, to the health, safety, or welfare of a child by a person responsible for the child’s health, safety or welfare, including, but not limited to, nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.”

State law requires every citizen to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child to the Department of Human Services. 

If you suspect child abuse, call:

Oklahoma hotline: 1-800-522-3511

National hotline: 1-800-4ACHILD

Callers can remain anonymous. 

 

Resources for parents and children

Family and Children’s Services: www.fcsok.org Offers a wide variety of counseling, education and prevention programs designed to strengthen and promote the well-being of families, children and communities. It has nine locations in the Tulsa metro area as well as in other northeastern Oklahoma communities.

Helpline Information Services: www.211tulsa.org This program of the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa offers help locating community resources for individuals and service providers.  

Mental Health Association in Tulsa: www.mhat.org Provides literature on specific mental illnesses, medical and legal referrals, referrals to local service providers, and lists of community resources, as well as active support and understanding of mental health issues.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Network: www.oscn.net The Oklahoma Supreme Court Network website provides information about court cases.

Parent Child Center of Tulsa: www.parentchildcenter.org Offers programs for parents who have already abused or neglected their children, as well as programs for parents who are at risk for child abuse or neglect. 

Tulsa CASA Inc.: www.tulsacasa.org An organization of trained court-appointed community volunteers who stand up in court for abused children.

Youth Services of Tulsa: www.yst.org Focuses on youth 12-18 and their families. YST offers a wide variety of programs, including an adolescent emergency shelter; crisis intervention; counseling; the First Offender Diversion, Safe Place and Street Outreach programs; HIV/AIDS prevention; substance abuse services; home-based counseling; and a youth activity center for creative and leisure skill development.

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