‘You help me be brave:’ Child Safety Center of White County using support dogs to help kids cope with trauma during investigations

Special Reports

WHITE COUNTY, Ark. – Meet Jake. He’s full of energy at playtime, but his vest turns him into a protector of children as they deal with the worst mistreatment imaginable.

Robin Connell of the Child Safety Center of White County said the children her agency serves are victims of many different kinds of trauma.

“Physical abuse, sexual abuse, extreme neglect, witnesses to violence,” she said. “They are actively involved in an open investigation with law enforcement.”

The Child Safety Center serves kids from infancy to 18 years old. Jake and his partner Enzo are facility dogs, and mental health therapist Caitlin Forcier thinks the pair have made

“Sometimes as the advocate, getting kids ready to go do that forensic interview was hard, and then instantaneously when we got Jake and then when Enzo joined, I could see an immediate difference with kids feeling so much more comfortable,” Forcier said.

Forensic interviewer Felicia Patten explained that she has witnessed Jake turn his head and look at kids during the hardest part of their interviews, laying his chin on their arm “or reach his paw over and put it on their leg.”

Studies by DoSomething.org indicate one in seven children in the U.S. are victims of child abuse and neglect. Last year the Child Safety Center served about 500 children.

Connell says only about 10% of abuse cases get reported, leaving roughly 90% unreported. It is a grim reality that she called, “overwhelming.”

Jake, with his brown eyes, floppy ears and soft fur, provides a calming effect for the children. In turn, the kids have shown their appreciation of Jake by writing letters to him.

Jake and Enzo are also able to go to court with the children. Though they can’t testify or win court battles, they can help children in other ways including helping them heal. 

“Sometimes cases don’t get the criminal justice that we would like to happen,” Forcier said. “Something that has stuck with me and keeps me going is that healing is its own form of justice.”

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