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Child Watch celebrates 30 years

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

The Child Watch Counseling and Advocacy Center has been providing counseling and other services to child abuse victims since Aug. 7, 1984, and on Thursday the nonprofit will celebrate its 30th anniversary.

A public open house will be held between 4 and 6 p.m. at the center, 1118 Jefferson St., in Paducah, with remarks beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Executive Director Lee Emmons said the event will not only recognize the agency's services and the continued need for those services in the community, but also celebrate children.

"Child abuse is such a horrible thing, but there is so much to celebrate about children: children who get the services that they need, and children who are fortunate enough not to need our services," Emmons said.

The program will include a salute to children, during which attendees will blow bubbles, as well as a recognition of current and former board members.

"The organizers, the early board members, volunteers and staff from 30 years ago and 20 years ago and 10 years ago have really done a wonderful job in first establishing the agency and in continuing to provide services to the community," Emmons said.

"So I really congratulate former board members and community members who have supported the agency since the early years, as well as those that support the agency today."

Emmons said Child Watch began as a grassroots effort by community members who saw the need to inform the public that "No. 1, child abuse occurs right here in our area and, No. 2, that we all need to be involved in preventing child abuse." The organization quickly evolved from an informational source to an agency that provides services directly to children who have been abused or neglected.

One of the services Child Watch provides in the Purchase area is trauma counseling for victims of child abuse and those who take care of them once they've left abusive environments, which Emmons said is an important next step for those children.

"It's really important to provide healing resources for the child," Emmons said. "Children who have been abused often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. We often think of PTSD as a condition that people who've served in the military or fought in wars come back with, but it also is a very real condition for children who've suffered trauma."

Emmons said Child Watch is able to provide free mental health counseling to kids who have been abused or neglected with federal grant funding it receives through the Victims of Crime Act, United Way funding and community support. Child Watch hopes to add mental health counseling services for children and teens who could benefit from it but don't meet the criteria to receive grant-funded free counseling, through Medicaid-based services and possibly private insurance.

Child Watch also provides child abuse prevention programs to between 25 and 30 elementary schools and other child-serving organizations each year, which teaching kids at a young age about appropriate boundaries between kids and adults and to use good judgment.

"It's not enough to say, 'Don't get in a car with a stranger.' And, of course, that is important, but in reality in far more abuse cases the offender is someone known to the child, be it a neighbor, a family member or a family friend," Emmons said. "So it's important to give children tools to make judgment calls."

Child Watch also operates the Court Appointed Special Advocates Program of McCracken County. Volunteers supervised by staff advocate for the best interests of children whose abuse and neglect cases are in the court system. 

Child Watch has helped thousands of western Kentucky kids and families since it was established. In the last year alone, it provided services to 220 children and 193 caregivers and organized education programs for more than 12,500 children and teachers.

Thursday's open house will include a dedication of the agency's new name, which changed from Child Watch Children's Advocacy Center earlier in the year to better reflect the services it provides.

For more information about Child Watch, call 270-443-1440.

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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