Brooks’ Place Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves

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CULLMAN – There is a two-story house in Cullman just by the middle school that does incredible work. The small and unassuming house has been filled with immense amounts of pain, but also works everyday to turn that pain into healing. Brooks’ Place is a non-profit child advocacy center that works with children and families who are victims of physical and sexual abuse.

To say that this work is important would be an understatement. When a child is suspected to have been physically or sexually abused, Brooks’ Place is there to help local officials like law enforcement get the information they need.

“We have two interview rooms,” said Executive Director Gail Swafford. “One is where law enforcement, DHR, law and the District Attorney might sit and watch. Then in the upstairs room is where we would take the child and let them play. We’ll talk with them and try to get the information we need. All the while, the officials are watching the live video.”

The reason the office for Brooks’ Place is set up like a house is not coincidence, according to Swafford. The idea behind it is to create a safe and homey space those children and their caregivers feel comfortable.

The numbers of interviews conducted for suspected abuse in the Cullman area are probably much higher than you might think.

“As far as interviews go, we probably see around 250 per year from Cullman,” said Swafford. “It is sad, and it’s something that a lot of people might not think happens in our little town. That is just the tip of the iceberg though, because statistically, it has been shown that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been assaulted. Many of these studies survey adults who say they never told anyone about their attack.”

Swafford went on to say that it is not the stranger that is the culprit most of the time.

“It’s not the stranger danger like we were told a long time ago. It is relatives and friends of the family. Kids know that it is going to upset the family, and a lot of times that is what keeps them silent their whole lives. It is why I tell every child that comes forward that they are my hero, because it takes a lot of courage to tell someone.”

The services provided by Brooks’ place span much further than interviews and casework. They also work hard to prevent juveniles who are high risk of becoming offenders themselves through rigorous counseling.

“Part of our program, too, is dealing with juvenile sex offenders,” Swafford said. “We provide individual, group and risk assessments for the court to determine if they can be at home and get treatment or if they need to be inpatient. The reason it was started was because of early pioneers who would survey men in prison who were convicted of a sex crime and find that their behavior started when they were teens.”

Brooks’ Place is staffed with forensic interviewers and victim advocates, as well as those who handle the administrative side of the non-profit. Their team ensures that not only do these children and their families receive help through the legal process, but also help to get other needs met like food, clothing or financial help. With low funding and staff, the team is still able to provide quality care, something Swafford attributes to education and a cohesive atmosphere.

“We have been able to attend specialized training sessions in trauma and behavioral therapies,” she said. “In terms of personnel, there have been changes. We are down to two full-time and three part-time which is difficult, but we all come together as a staff, and with other agencies. We’re a very cohesive team that works together to meet the needs of these families.”

For more information about Brooks’ Place, located at 1003 4th Ave. NE Cullman, AL 35055, call 256-739-2243.

Break out box: “It’s something that a lot of people might not think happens that often in our little town. That is just the tip of the iceberg though, because statistically it has been shown that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been assaulted.”

“It is why I tell every child that comes forward that they are my hero, because it takes a lot of courage to tell someone”