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Arkansas First Lady highlights child abuse advocacy efforts

Daniel Breen
Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson speaks about her Shine Hope initiative to combat child abuse at the state Capitol.

With April being National Child Abuse Awareness Month, Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson is raising awareness to help combat child abuse in the state.

Hutchinson joined her husband, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and other state officials Monday to detail her efforts to expand the number of Children’s Advocacy Centers, or CACs, both in and out of the state.

Speaking at the state Capitol, the First Lady urged parents and other adults to be aware of potential abuse happening around them.

“The danger is within feet of them. The danger is within the group of people they know best. 90% of the abusers are known by the child, known by the family, known in the community,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson says she’s successfully lobbied 15 states to join her Shine Hope initiative, which urges policymakers to look at laws and policies to see if they line up with the mission of Children’s Advocacy Centers to prevent physical and sexual abuse of children.

Elizabeth Pulley, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, says the centers serve as a first stop for children who’ve experienced abuse or witnessed a violent crime.

“CACs provide a safe, child-friendly environment where law enforcement, DHS, state police, prosecutors, medical and mental health professionals can share information and can develop effective, coordinated strategies for each unique case and child,” Pulley said.

Pulley says the centers offer free services, like advocacy support, trauma-focused therapy and medical exams, to an increasing number of kids needing their services.

“In 2021, the 27 CAC locations in Arkansas provided free, direct services to 11,200 children. This is the most children served in a CAC in our state’s history.”

Among the states joining the First Lady’s Shine Hope initiative are neighboring Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Children’s Advocacy Centers, she says, exist in every state in the U.S. as well as roughly 30 other countries.