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An Interview with Sarah Gibbons


Executive Director

Family Support Line | Media, PA

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn

1. What are the goods/services offered by your primary business?

We provide hope and healing for child abuse victims, especially sexual abuse, while seeking to provide compassionate care, healing, justice, and dignity given in equal measure to EVERY child and family we serve.

Although they are not easily accomplished, our goals are simple and straightforward: to provide prevention education to as many children in Delaware County as possible; to coordinate investigations of the sexual victimization of children; to reduce the risk of re-traumatizing child victims that stem from multiple and uncoordinated interviews; to help families navigate the confusing law enforcement and social services systems; and to make sure children and families get the services they need.

2. What did you launch in response to the COVD-19 pandemic?

For over 30 years, Family Support Line has been delivering child sexual abuse prevention education programs face-to-face to help children stay safer and reach out for help sooner if abuse does occur. Because of COVID-19, our social networks have changed; much of our networking has moved online for both children and adults. The online dangers for children are real and include sexting, chatting with strangers, and more. Today, we are making our prevention education more accessible with an awareness campaign that will focus on how to get help for child sexual abuse as well as the dangers of sexting. The Prevention Awareness Campaign will consist of three parts—website redesign so that the site is mobile-device friendly, geographically targeted digital awareness advertisements, and poster advertisements (English and Spanish versions) that will be distributed as soon as the stay at home orders have been lifted. These posters will be delivered to local organizations for display—with both the digital ads and the posters leading viewers to our redesigned informational website (and telephone number) so that they may easily find the necessary help and support.

As a result of the COVID-19 social distancing, we successfully moved our treatment programs to telemental health. Our therapists provided over 103 individual and family telehealth sessions via telephone and HIPAA-compliant video platforms between April and June. Our Children’s Psychosocial Skills Group met virtually 18 times. Our non-offending parent/caregiver group, which was primarily comprised of grandparents and great-grandparents, also met virtually 7 times. Additionally, we conducted 12 home visits – either to provide therapy (with appropriate social distancing) or drop off art supplies, activities, volunteer-sewn face masks, healthy foods, and headphones (to help ensure client privacy during virtual sessions) for child clients and their families.

The recent racial tensions in our country further empathize the importance of Family Support Line and the Delaware County Children’s Advocacy Center’s mission in ensuring that all children receive an objective forensic interview and healing support for the trauma caused by the abuse. We know that our work at the DCCAC can change the entire trajectory of a child’s life and those of their family members.

Given that the majority of our cases are from lower socioeconomic areas of Delaware County and the majority of our children are brown and black, it is our duty and part of our mission to ensure that these children’s stories are heard and valued while also ensuring that there is fairness and understanding when a child discloses that there is no abuse taking place. Justice exists for Delaware County children as a result of the DCCAC but also ensures that families are not broken up on account of inaccurately presuming abuse of any kind. The National Children’s Alliance policies and procedures and our accreditation with following them make us a leader in this protection in our community. Family Support Line will continue to seek answers that are rooted in compassion, healing, justice, and dignity given in equal measure to EVERY child and family we serve. During COVID-19, we have continued to provide forensic interviews and the rates of referrals continue
to increase. Over the last 3 months we have conducted over 87 interviews. These interviews required innovative changes to how we include the multidisciplinary team (staff from CYS, law enforcement and the DA’s office). We began using video conferencing so that the multidisciplinary team can participate.

Normally, the multidisciplinary team sits in a room adjacent to the interview room and watches on closed-circuit TV and gives feedback to the forensic interviewer in real time. With video conferencing we are able to provide the multidisciplinary team with real time access to the interview so that they can provide real time feedback to the forensic interviewer while the team remains socially distanced. The real time feedback is important because, when done properly, it limits the number of interviews the sexually abused child must endure. (Multiple interviews can and will cause additional trauma to the
child victim.) With all programs, we always emphasize that sexual abuse is never the child's fault. Our message is
simple: Help is available. Healing is possible. And we seek justice for the child that has been abused.

3. How long do you anticipate continuing this effort?

For the foreseeable future until COVID-19 restrictions ease.

4. How can others learn more about your COVID-19 response efforts?

They can contact Sarah Gibbons, visit our website, and follow us on social media. •