By Joel Phelps
Hundreds of handprints, each one of them unique in color and size, cover the walls and ceiling of the Percy and Donna Malone Child Safety Center.
There are more than 1,000 of these prints, and each one represents an abused or neglected child who has received services from this facility, which is one of 17 like it in Arkansas. Because of this center and others like it, a child who has experienced unimaginable trauma doesn’t have to share their horrific story repeatedly with to police, doctors, lawyers and therapists.
Once the abuse is reported, a state investigator intervenes, and the victim is introduced to a safe, child-focused environment by a caregiver or other safe adult. The child can then tell her* story once to a trained forensic interviewer. Upon viewing the recorded interview, a team of law enforcement, prosecutors and other professionals decides how to help the child.
In addition to the forensic interviews, the center provides medical exams, mental health therapy and advocates for the victim and family throughout the judicial process. All of these services are free to the victims and their families.
Local businessman and former state Sen. Percy Malone was instrumental in introducing legislation to bring child advocacy centers to Arkansas. The Arkadelphia-based center serves Clark, Pike, Nevada, Hot Spring and Dallas counties The staff relies on the partnerships of the Arkansas Department of Human Services and Arkansas State Police, as well as local law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys.
Since it opened in 2015, the center has served more than 1,000 children. In 2021, staff there provided services for 199 children, said Stephanie Hrabal, the center’s executive director.
Hrabal and the other staffers are using the month of April to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. They’ve been busy in April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and have been sharing their message with civic clubs, governing boards and other entities. This Monday, the staff accompanied Hrabal in addressing the Clark County Quorum Court.
“We exist to provide healing and hope for children who are victims of child abuse,” Hrabal told justices of the peace. “We know that through awareness and education there can be change.” She urged justices to spread the word and speak up for victims of abuse. “Don’t turn a blind eye,” she said. “Child abuse rarely stops without intervention. You are a light in this darkness. Let your knowledge and your light be a beacon, and shine it for others to see.”
County Judge Troy Tucker proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and thanked the center for advocating for victims of child abuse. He noted a recently adjudicated case in which a Clark County jury “made a pretty strong statement on how we feel about child abuse.” Addressing the PDMCSC staff, Tucker added: “You’re an advocate for the young people, and that’s very important.”
Duck Derby Festival
The center has planned a fundraiser event that promises fun for all ages.
The Duck Derby Festival, a free event, is scheduled for Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at Ouachita Baptist University’s Cliff Harris Stadium parking lot.
There will be games, color wars and a duck drop/race on Mill Creek. Prices for the duck drop are $5 for one duck or $20 for five ducks. The marked rubber ducks will be dropped into the creek and float downstream to the finish line. Grand prize winners include a MacBook Pro, a Hot Springs getaway and more. For event information or to purchase a duck, click here or call (870) 403-6879 for more information.
*We used “her” as a pronoun because, according to statistics, one in four girls and will experience some form of sexual abuse by the time they are 18, and one in 13 boys will.