Panelists gather in front of small crowd at Freedom Church to educate on child abuse prevention
LANSING, Ill. (April 5, 2023) – A panel of speakers came to Freedom Church Ministries on Wednesday morning to speak on the prevention and aftermath of child abuse, in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Lansing Human Relations Commission Chair Valerie McDaniels — who is a retired Illinois Department of Children and Family Services child abuse prevention specialist — spearheaded the event, which ran for about an hour and 20 minutes. About 20 people were present for the event in the Freedom Church event room.
McDaniels opened the morning by welcoming those in attendance, expressing the need for education around child abuse prevention. Freedom Church pastor Dewayne Sutton prayed for the event before Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam took the mic to praise McDaniels’ efforts.
“This topic is a passionate one for Valerie. I remain grateful that she is teaching us to talk about this difficult subject, and to be advocates for the children of our village,” Eidam said.
The below were featured speakers at the event, and shared professional insights into the world of child abuse prevention and response:
- Sarita Sashington, Director of Engagement and Training Capacity, Be Strong Families
- Belinda Farr, Prevention Specialist, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois
- Karina Gil, Director of Education and Prevention, Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center
- Monica Czajkowski, Coordinator and Forensic Interviewer, La Rabida Children’s Advocacy Center Park Forest
- Dr. Emily Sifferman, Director of Child Protection Team, Advocate Christ Medical Center
- Al Phillips, Lansing Chief of Police
- Anna Calix, Founder and Executive Director, Gifts from Liam
“It is the responsibility of every adult to make sure that children in their families, in their work, and in their neighborhoods are safe,” said Belinda Farr of Be Strong Families.
Monica Czajkowski said La Rabida Children’s Advocacy Center works directly with children who are victims of abuse — often referred by law enforcement — and conducts “forensic interviews” in a trauma-informed way to help children share information about their abuse.
“We follow the lead of the child and gather the information they are telling us,” she said, “I know this year alone I would say that we’re close to already 350-400 referrals. We are extremely busy. I believe on Monday alone we did eight interviews.”
Karina Gil, who also works in child advocacy, said, “We believe it’s an adult responsibility to keep kids safe from abuse, and so we do a lot of education in the community that’s adult-focused. … How we respond in the moment is just as important as reporting.”
Lansing Police Chief Phillips shared a harrowing incident that occurred in 2014 of a three-year old girl who was abused and died in Lansing. Phillips said the father alleged to have been the abuser was not found guilty.
Phillips said the LPD has had 82 investigations in the last 13 years for child abuse cases, with 32 arrests. “I have to think there’s probably more going on out there than what’s actually reported. And that touches me,” he said.
Anna Calix, who suffered a stillbirth some years ago, founded a non-profit — Gifts from Liam — as a way to address child abuse farther “upstream,” and focus on equipping and educating parents.
“Since the day [my son] was born, and died, it has been my personal mission — which evolved into our organization’s mission — to save more babies by providing the education and resources that can quite literally save a baby’s life,” she said.
McDaniels closed the event by inviting the community to come to a mental health event at Coolidge School on April 14, and look out for other future Human Relations Commission events. Pastor Dave Price of First United Methodist Church closed in prayer. He referenced the birth of Jesus taking place in impoverished conditions, and said God understands the difficult situations parents face when raising their children.
After the event, participants placed blue pinwheels around Village Hall, which symbolize the prevention of child abuse.
In support of child abuse prevention, Gus Bock’s Ace Hardware has donated blue lightbulbs that will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to Lansing residents. They are also selling the bulbs for 99 cents at their store at 3455 Ridge Road.
Calumet Bakery (18349 Torrence Avenue) and Kdulche Café (3521 Ridge Road) are offering blue pastries for purchase.
To report child abuse in Illinois, call 1-800-25ABUSE.
More information about preventing child abuse is available at preventchildabuseillinois.org.