Causes | September 2016
Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center’s mission to
provide a safe haven for victims of abuse
Story by Tonya Thompson
The first time Ashley Schachterle knew that DeSoto County needed a child advocacy center was a time she’d like to forget.
“When I was a therapist, we had a case involving a 4-year-old little girl,” recalls Schachterle, a licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Journey to New Beginnings, a counseling practice located in Southaven. “The little girl made a disclosure that she was being sexually abused. At the time, there wasn’t a child advocacy center in DeSoto County and the closest child advocacy centers were Tupelo and Oxford.”
The result was a period of several weeks before the 4-year-old was able to have a forensic interview done. During that time, important evidence and details were lost, ending in the case being thrown out of court. “Now, she has supervised visitations every other weekendwith her perpetrator and there is nothing we can do about it,” says Schachterle. “I found myself crying every time she walked through the door. I felt like we had failed her and we didn’t do enough.”
Realizing she had to do something to make sure other DeSoto County children wouldn’t be failed by a broken process, Schachterle visited the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama to learn more about child advocacy centers. “I knew how many children were being abused here because I did therapy with them at the private practice,” she recalls. “I couldn’t understand why there were close to 700 child advocacy centers in the U.S., but DeSoto County didn’t have one.”
But that wasn’t the case for long. On March 1, 2013 — less than a year later — Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was opened, with Schachterle as its Executive Director. Her goal for the center was to help turn victims into survivors. “Our county, our community and especially our abused children deserved to have the services that child advocacy centers provide,” she says.
Since its inception, Healing Hearts CAC has helped children who are victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and drug endangerment, as well as children who have been witnesses to crimes. In collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office, the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department, county-wide police departments, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Schachterle and the staff at Healing Hearts CAC provide an opportunity for young victims to only have to tell their story once, and in a child-friendly environment. Families and young children don’t have to go to the police department to give a statement and the legal process to keep the child away from the perpetrator can immediately begin.
“We have had an increase in prosecutions,” says Schachterle. “Since we opened, we have interviewed 744 children and reviewed 850 cases as a multi-disciplinary team. The biggest reward is seeing that we are making a difference in children’s lives.”
Since it “takes a village” to ensure that children in our community are given the resources they need to thrive despite adversity, Healing Hearts CAC hosts several community events for fundraising efforts. The “Toast to Heal Hearts Gala” is the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser, and will take place on Veteran’s Day. Community members are also invited to make individual donations, business contributions, or donations to the Center’s “Tyler’s Closet” — a clothing distributor that provides vital basic necessities for children who have been removed from unsafe environments by DeSoto County’s Child Protection Services. There is a wish list set up on Amazon that details what is needed, and donations can be shipped directly to the Center.