Brooke Woods is the Executive Director of Stepping Stone Children’s Advocacy Center in Dublin.
CACGA: What is the Stepping Stone?
Brooke Woods: Stepping Stone Child Advocacy Center is a non-profit organization located in Dublin, Georgia which serves victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, as well as those children who witness domestic violence. The mission of Stepping Stone is to lessen the trauma suffered by children who have been abused by providing evaluation in a safe, caring place and to encourage collaboration of services for the benefit of the child, family, and community. Stepping Stone currently serves the children and families of the Dublin Judicial Circuit by providing them with free prevention, intervention, and education related to child abuse.
CACGA: What would you like the community to know about the professionals who work there?
Brooke Woods: Employees of Stepping Stone have a passion for the health and well-being of all children. You will often hear our staff and volunteers say, “All children matter.” Our vison is to one day live in a community where children flourish free from child abuse and neglect.
As the Executive Director and Forensic Interviewer at Stepping Stone, I have direct contact with all of the families that come to our center. It is my hope that each child and family member that leaves Stepping Stone will feel like they have an advocate who will walk with them through the traumatic experience of abuse. I earned my bachelor degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Science Education. Although I worked in the teaching field for many years, I felt a calling to get involved with child advocacy work after serving on a jury that convicted a serial child molester. At the center my responsibilities include: conducting forensic interviews, providing victim advocacy, testifying in court, writing grant proposals, providing community prevention and awareness, assisting during sexual assault exams, coordinating and facilitating the multi-disciplinary team, fund raising, and other random duties.
Paula Bennett is our trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner who conducts sexual assault exams at Stepping Stone. She works part-time as a nurse at Fairview Park Hospital but is on call 24 hours a day if Stepping Stone needs her to perform an exam. Paula is one of the most passionate people I have ever met when it comes to keeping children safe and prosecuting those who harm children. Many people are not willing to conduct sexual assault exams, especially on children, because it is a very sad and emotionally draining experience. However, Paula drives to Dublin at all hours of the night when a child needs her help, even though she has 3 young children of her own at home. Our medical room would not be open if it were not for Paula’s unselfish work.
CACGA: What would the Dublin Judicial Circuit be without the center?
Brooke Woods: Over 20 concerned community professionals and citizens met on January 22, 1998 to form a task force to get a child advocacy center in Dublin. In November of 1999, Stepping Stone became a 501(c)(3) private, non-profit and opened the doors to the community. For many years Stepping Stone provided forensic interviews, victim advocacy, parenting classes, and community awareness and education. However, if a child needed a sexual assault exam, the family would have to travel to Macon to receive additional services. Since the family and child are already going through an extremely traumatic experience, it was a hardship to ask them to drive over an hour to receive adequate services. In 2013, with the help of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia and the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, Stepping Stone was able to open a medical room. Currently when a child alleges abuse, they can be brought to Stepping Stone and receive all the services they need at one location. The counties of the Dublin Judicial Circuit are some of the most underserved in our state. Many victims would not receive the services they deserve without the Child Advocacy Center.
As much as Stepping Stone is a benefit to the community, the community is a huge asset to Stepping Stone. With the tremendous support from local agencies, such as the United Way and the Dublin Exchange club, we have been able to provide free services to thousands of families. Many of the local businesses in our community have provided funds to support our parenting program and victim advocacy program. Without our local hospital, our medical room would not have the many supplies we need to perform sexual assault exams. Our multidisciplinary team, which includes members from law enforcement, DFCS, mental health, CASA, District Attorney Office, Department of Juvenile Justice, public school social workers and others come together each month to collaborate our knowledge and resources to give families what they need to heal from the effects of child abuse.
CACGA: How can people in your community become involved?
Brooke Woods: The Dublin community has been very supportive of Stepping Stone with their gifts and service. We have numerous community volunteers who come out each year to make improvements around the center. Also, we can all Stand Up for A Child by reporting suspicions of abuse by calling 1-855-GA CHILD. Stepping Stone sponsors events throughout the year and we need volunteers who are willing to donate financial resources, as well as their time to make these events a success. We would love for our high school and college students to become involved through internships or other activities.
We hope that one day every adult in our community will become trained to recognize the sign of abuse by taking one of our Darkness to light-Stewards of Children classes. This two-hour class is free of charge and would benefit anyone who works with children.
CACGA: Why do you do what you do professionally?
Brooke Woods: Many people ask me how I listen to stories everyday concerning horrific stories of abuse. The answer is pretty simple, I want to be part of the solution. Children are the most vulnerable victims in our society. No child deserves to suffer at the hands of an adult. We have to stop assuming that someone else is going to stand up for children or change this epidemic. Children trust adults. They come to this earth with a clean slate and don’t always choose the conditions in which they live and grow up. I want to see children grow and flourish. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a child to share their deepest hurts and secrets. Many times they believe abuse is their fault. Child abuse isn’t a problem the child created, it’s an adult problem. I want adults who intend to hurt children to be afraid to come into our community because they know they are going to be held accountable for their actions. I want every child to know that they are loved, cherished and have a voice.