Michele Thames, the new executive director of SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center, brought a furry assistant when she recently joined the organization in Fairfax County. Her professionally trained facility dog Pecos worked with her previously at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters child abuse program in Norfolk.
Thames said she was surprised when she saw that clutching Pecos’ leash made medical exams slightly more bearable for some young victims. Sometimes pausing to stroke Pecos or talk about his toy and treat preferences has made it possible to continue a difficult conversation and start a child and a family on the path to recovery.
Pecos is a professionally trained dog provided to SafeSpot by Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that provides service dogs to people with disabilities and organizations like SafeSpot. He’s proven to be a soothing lifeline for victims of sexual and physical abuse.
SafeSpot is a nonprofit and a public-private partnership with Fairfax County Law Enforcement, Child Protective Services, The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Inova Fairfax Hospital, and the Community Services Board. It provides a child-friendly environment where a child can be interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer and receive no-cost therapy services. Non-offending family members can also receive support.
“People are often surprised that child abuse affects affluent and non-affluent households,” explained Thames. “Fairfax County has nine sex crime detectives investigating crimes related to sex and children. We don’t have the capability to see all the children who need our help.”
With dedicated volunteers like Denise Balzano, Bootsie Humenansky, and Bridget Rainey who rescued the organization three years ago when it lost funding, SafeSpot is determined to help as many children and families as possible.
“We expanded our space this summer to see more children,” explained Board Chair Denise Balzano. She also noted that in addition to Pecos, SafeSpot’s new director “brings a wealth of experience, empathy, and insights for children and families. Michele and our multidisciplinary community partners make a world of difference for Fairfax County families and citizens.”
“Our programs give children the opportunity to heal,” explained Thames. “Without therapy and
support, these children—our future employees and citizens—will likely have problems for years to come. “By interviewing the child once (instead of multiple times), recording the information, and making sure it is collected in a forensically sensitive manner, we provide not only a service to the child and the team of investigators, but to the community we live in. Ensuring that the child and the family gets needed therapy is also critical to start a very important journey.”
And Pecos is there to make it a little easier.
Those interested in helping SafeSpot can attend or contribute to the organization’s major fundraiser at Bloomingdale’s Oct. 18. Tickets to the annual Passion for Fashion and Children Event are available at www.safespotfairfax.org.