COLUMN: Healing at Owens House

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

The staff at Owens House, Shelby County Children’s Advocacy Center, work daily to ensure the children they serve can access the resources they need to heal from traumas they have experienced.

The nonprofit agency’s facility in Columbiana is a significant part of these efforts, and on Dec. 3, Owens House Executive Director Cindy Greer and her staff invited community members to an open house to tour the facility and learn just what goes into the services provided for child abuse victims and their families.

The Owens House staff takes a multi-discipline approach to child advocacy by conducting forensic interviews; providing crisis intervention and emotional support; offering individual, group and play therapy; conducting extended forensic evaluations; and providing court support, among other services.

The forensic interviews, for example, are conducted in a child-friendly, home-like atmosphere in which children can feel safe.

Children can opt for Fitz the facility dog to sit with them during their interviews.

Fitz can also accompany children to court.

“He’s been a really good help,” forensic interviewer Maribeth Bowman said of Fitz, who was trained to be a facility dog through the nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence.

According to Bowman, Owens House conducts between 350-400 interviews each year, making it one of the busiest facilities in the state. But the facility’s services extend beyond forensic interviews.

Owens House holds abuse prevention and conflict resolution programs in local elementary and intermediate schools; free parenting classes three times a year; continuing education for all professionals working in child abuse; and an annual child abuse prevention campaign to remind the community of this ongoing problem facing the county.

Owens House’s newest program is the BUDDY team, which allows individuals and groups to sponsor children in counseling through notes or gifts of encouragement.

Next up for Owens House will be the addition of a new training and community outreach building this spring.

Having more space will allow the agency to host more training and community meetings without disrupting the child services rendered daily in the main building.

Considering the vast number of forensic interviews Owens House must conduct each year, anything that further helps the agency carry out these vital services for children is well worth every penny invested. Thanks to the dedicated Owens House staff and others who work with and support them, many children can find the healing they desperately need.