If you’ve driven up VT RT 110, in the shire town of Chelsea, you’ve driven past the Orange County Child Advocacy Center (OCCAC). Co-located with the OCCAC is the Orange County Special Investigations Unit. If you’re lucky, sometimes therapy dog in training, Maz, can be seen playing fetch. Soon he’ll be available to assist victims while they work through their trauma.
The OCCAC was initially formed by Sheriff William Bohnyak and was officially recognized as a 501(C)(3) in 2011. While many of the services needed by clients of the OCCAC are located within Chelsea, several of the partner agencies are elsewhere. Right down the road is Safeline, the Domestic and Sexual Assault Advocacy Organization, who provides advocacy to clients of the OCCAC. Orange County is subdivided into three sections for the Department for Children and Families: Hartford, St Johnsbury, and Barre. Clara Martin staff provide mental health services, whereas physical concerns are referred to the CaPP program at Dartmouth Hitchcock, ChildSafe Clinic at St Johnsbury Pediatrics and the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.
These agencies comprise their multi-disciplinary team (MDT) to ensure that child victims of sexual and/or physical abuse, along with adult victims of sexual assault, receive the services they need to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. Because child sexual abuse impacts family members of the victims as well, these agencies are available to support non-offending family members.
Determined to be more active in Orange County, the OCCAC took the opportunity to provide outreach to area schools. In May 2019 they had the privilege to discuss Boundaries, Sexual Assault, Sexting and Healthy Relationships with incoming 8th graders of the White River Valley supervisory area and they are looking forward to working with other local schools. In June the OCCAC hosted their first annual “It Takes a Village 5k” in the town of Chelsea. There were games, superheroes and medals; to say everyone had a blast is an understatement. Currently the OCCAC is looking at incorporating two more fundraisers through the upcoming year. Information about their fundraisers can be found on their Facebook page (Orange County Child Advocacy Center) and website: orangecountycac.org.
OCCAC’s main goal was to become an accredited member with the National Children’s Alliance, not an easy feat as they had a complete staff turnover in the last 12 months. In October 2018, Executive Director Ferron Wambold came to the center as a certified Forensic Interviewer with eight years of Law Enforcement experience. Justina Kenyon joined the ranks of the OCCAC in December 2018 after five years of helping the citizens of Orange County at Safeline, the Domestic and Sexual Advocacy Organization with whom the OCCAC is partnered. Justina’s skills as a Victim Advocate routinely come in handy, utilizing them as well as what she learned from Forensic Interviewer training this past March in her new role as MDT Coordinator.
The accreditation process involves an in-depth review of the child advocacy center, ensuring 10 standards are met that assist families and victims in managing the trauma they’ve experienced. In January 2019, Director Wambold submitted their application to the National Children’s Alliance. On July 18, 2019, a site review was held at the center and the OCCAC was told they passed with flying colors. The final approval from the National Children’s Alliance is expected in October 2019.
Well done Ferron, Justina and the OCCAC MDT!