Corks for a Cause: Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center

Editor’s Note: Each month the Destin Log will share a story from one of the charity partners benefiting from the support of Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation.

Did you know there are 2.9 million reported cases of child abuse in the United States every year? One in 16 children suffer from sexual abuse and one in 10 children suffer from child maltreatment.

Experts agree that these incidences are far greater than what is reported to the authorities. Thankfully in Northwest Florida there is an organization working to prevent child abuse, protect children and restore the lives of abuse victims. The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) offers a safe environment for investigative, legal, social, medical and mental health services.

Located in Niceville, the ECCAC is serving the community with three Licensed Mental Health Therapists as well as therapy dogs. Victims and their families are never charged for services at the center.

ECCAC became a Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF) partner in 2009. In the last six years, they have earned over $785,000 and these funds have been used for direct services to clients. Services range from mental health, case advocate and mental health advocacy programs to building needs such as replacing air conditioning units, and most recently, for construction of a new center in DeFuniak Springs.

“When we meet with organizations to enlist support from DCWAF, we often talk about saving children. This is truly the mission of the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center,” says Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation President John Russell. “They are the protectors of children that cannot protect themselves. We are honored to help this incredible organization in their fight to end child abuse.”

In 2014, ECCAC served 687 children, all confirmed cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe neglect and/or drug endangerment. DCWAF funding provided 1,413 mental health therapy sessions in 2014, where licensed therapists help children be children again. These interventions can include individual counseling, art therapy, play therapy, support groups and sand tray therapy. The Center offers a warm, caring environment so children’s first experiences with therapy are positive.

In addition, there is a case advocate who ensures that the well-being of the child is the focus, while tracking the progress of the child abuse case and ensuring successful prosecution of the offender. Since the inception of the program in 1997, there has been a 45 percent increase in successfully prosecuting offenders.

This month, the halls of the center are filled with holiday decorations, toys and holiday packages. The smell of freshly baked chocolate-chipped cookies greets visitors as they walk in the door. Once inside, welcoming, warm smiles and a warm, caring environment provides a sense of calm and comfort to victims and their families.

ECCAC is currently constructing a second location in DeFuniak Springs to better serve victims in Walton County. Expected to open in April 2016, the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center will mirror the Niceville location’s model “team” approach.

“We want to save and restore lost childhoods here,” says ECCAC Executive Director Julie Hurst. “We know that while the number of children we see is sobering, that there is a ray of hope. Seeing more children equates to more cases of child abuse being reported. We can only do the work we do each day because of our community. We know for certain that the children and their families are counting on us to be there for them.”

Learn more about the ECCAC and their new location by visiting www.eccac.org. For more information about the DCWAF, see http://www.dcwaf.org/.