Amy Economopolous is the Executive Director of the Anna Crawford Children’s Center in Woodstock, Georgia. She has been the executive director since 2000.
CACGA: What is the Anna Crawford Children’s Center and what is its mission?
Amy: The Anna Crawford Children’s Center has transformed our community’s response to child abuse, giving families hope in their darkest moments. The Anna Crawford Children’s Center, located in Woodstock, Georgia, is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect; and protecting and serving children and families. Since opening the doors in 1990, our staff has worked together to serve over five thousand families in Cherokee County, allowing them to live safer, healthier, fuller and more rewarding lives. Services are provided in English, Spanish and Portuguese, at no charge to the children and families.
Programs based out of the Anna Crawford Children’s Center include the following:
Child Advocacy Center (CAC) – The CAC program provides a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to child abuse investigation, intervention and treatment aimed at minimizing trauma and anxiety for child victims and their non-offending caregivers. Services include forensic interviews, individual and group therapy and support sessions for child victims and their non-offending caregivers, victim and family advocacy services, multidisciplinary team case review meetings, and expert testimony.
Parent HELP – Parent HELP works with families who have been identified as at-risk or have already engaged in some type of maltreatment, abuse or neglect. Parent HELP operates from the belief that children can be safe and thrive within their homes when parents receive support and services to empower them to make positive, life-altering changes. Parent HELP services include Darkness to Light sexual abuse prevention classes and intensive, in-home and group parent education and support.
ChildFirst Georgia – The Anna Crawford Children’s Center partners with the National Child Protection Training Center to provide ChildFirst™ Georgia. ChildFirst is an intensive, five day course in which child abuse professionals learn the skills to conduct objective, non-leading, and legally defensible investigative interviews of suspected victims of child abuse. Each year, we train over 140 child abuse professionals from across the state, including detectives, caseworkers, CAC forensic interviewers, prosecutors, and medical and mental health professionals.
CACGA: What would you like your community to know about the professionals who work at the Anna Crawford Children’s Center?
Amy: The professional staff is simply the heart and soul of the Anna Crawford Children’s Center. Each and every individual member plays a vital role in contributing to our success as we work to protect the most vulnerable children in our community. Our staff is a passionate, energetic and culturally diverse group made up of individuals who are highly respected, skilled, and knowledgeable. Our multilingual staff works diligently to ensure that children and families feel empowered and respected and are afforded a chance to heal from abuse and trauma. Each day, our staff faces complex situations, sorts through complicated dynamics, and listens to painful and emotional accounts of abuse. They find healthy ways to cope with the terrible things they hear and they make informed decisions about what is in the best interests of children based on their education, experience, ethics and integrity. The Anna Crawford Children’s Center and our community are truly fortunate to have such a fabulous, talented group of women working to protect our children. I am honored to call this strong group of ladies not only my professional colleagues but my friends.
CACGA: What would Cherokee County, Georgia be without the Anna Crawford Children’s Center?
Amy: As I was discussing this question with one of my co-workers, she suggested the following, “Rather, what would the Anna Crawford Children’s Center be without the community?” While the Anna Crawford Children’s Center is most certainly a valuable asset to Cherokee County, we could not do what we do without the efforts, support and partnerships of the people in our community. We rely on citizens and mandated reporters to be courageous and make reports when they suspect children may be experiencing abuse. We depend on law enforcement and child protective services to trust us with some of their most challenging investigations and refer children and families to our agency to receive their initial investigative interviews. We count on brave, hopeful children and non-offending caregivers who find the strength to return to our Center to participate in therapy. We rely on prosecutors who are willing to pursue justice for child abuse cases that are rumored to be the most difficult to take to trial. We depend on members of the community to make personal sacrifices to serve on our Board of Directors and provide us with guidance and leadership. We count on individuals and local businesses to volunteer their time and resources so that we can keep our lights on for children and families who are in their darkest hour and need a safe place to work through the healing process. So when it comes to protecting children, the Anna Crawford Children’s Center and the entire community must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight the fight. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
CACGA: How can people in your community become involved with the Anna Crawford Children’s Center?
Amy: There are numerous ways that individuals and groups in our community can join us in our efforts to protect children. First and foremost, we would love to see every adult in our community become trained to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse by taking one of our two-hour, Darkness to Light classes. Those interested may sign up to attend a class at our Center or may request that one of our facilitator’s come out and teach the class to a group with which they are involved. Darkness to Light classes are provided at no charge. We also provide various opportunities for adults and groups to volunteer their time and talents to the Center. We are currently in need of responsible volunteers who are interested in welcoming and orienting clients to the Center and providing supervision for children in the waiting room. We are also in need of assistance in putting on our annual Holiday Lights of Hope fundraiser. Holiday Lights of Hope is an 11-night, family-friendly event attended by over 10,000 people.
CACGA: Why do you do what you do professionally?
Amy: In the summer of 1995, as a college student, I was selected to serve on a jury for a child molestation trial. At the time, I had no experience working in the field of child abuse. Our twelve member jury delivered a guilty verdict but we did not arrive at this decision without careful deliberation. We spent many hours posing questions and having discussion about things that I now understand to be labeled as “the complicated dynamics of child sexual abuse.” We wondered why the 8 year-old little girl had waited over three years before telling anyone about being sexually abused by her father. We questioned why she seemed to speak fondly of him to others if he had been abusing her. We pondered whether it was possible for a man who had such a respectable position in the community to have really fooled everyone. Fortunately, the young girl had provided strong, powerful and convincing testimony during the trial that continued to resonate throughout our deliberation and still remains a memory for me to this day. After the trial was over, I began to seek volunteer opportunities in my community that would allow me to work with children who had experienced sexual abuse. I soon met Dr. Susan Campbell who at the time was serving as the Executive Director of Harbor House, the Northwest Georgia Child Advocacy Center. Several weeks later I began a fall internship at Harbor House and never looked back. I have since had the privilege of working with Child Advocacy Centers for almost 20 years and have provided direct services to over 2,000 children. My experience now enables me to go into a courtroom and provide education on the complicated matters that once confused me and my fellow jurors. Often I’m asked, “How do you do what you do?” to which I usually reply, “How can I know what I know and NOT do what I do.”