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Ad Campaign Encouraging Reports of Abuse, Draws Scrutiny

A new Central Ohio program encourages people to report child abuse. The Center for Family Safety and Healing has launched an ad campaign to urge witnesses to call or text what they see. The organization wants to change behavior and reduce abuse, but there are questions about the proper role a private group should play in enforcing child protection laws. "Where's the line, this is Kiersten, how can I help you?" At the center's offices on Livingston Avenue, Kiersten Curtis, answers phone calls and responds to texts about potential cases of family abuse. Maybe you've heard or seen the Center's ads titled 'Where's the Line." "If you've seen something that you think might be abuse and you have questions about what to do next call or text for answers and advice that can help, asking 'Where's the Line' might be the one thing that saves a child's life," (ad sound) Unlike a public service announcement produced by a county or state agency, 'Where's the Line' is privately funded. Center founder, Abigail Wexner, says the goal is to draw attention to and prevent family abuse by convincing witnesses to possible abuse to call or text the center. "We know how difficult it is for victims, so by asking the bystanders to become aware about the signs of family violence, child abuse, and then be willing just to make a call to find out if what they've witnessed is abuse we might help empower them and ultimately reach our victims or save lives," says Wexner. Wexner says calls to the center are anonymous unless the individual wants to be identified. She stresses the center is not the place to report emergencies. "This is not in place of a call to 9-1-1. You know if a person is witnessing a violent act where people's lives are in danger the first call there is to 9-1-1," says Wexner. When center workers take a call, they ask questions based on a prepared script. If the report of abuse is serious enough and happening in real time, the center's call taker can immediately transfer the call to 9-1-1 or to Franklin County Children's Services. It's the caller's choice. The center does not investigate possible abuse. That's the job of Franklin County Children Services Bruce Cadwallader speaks for the county agency. "We are the agency mainly that by law to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. So they would refer these clients to us and we would handle potential investigation," says Cadwallader. For its part, Franklin County Children Services staffs its own 24-hour hotline to report abuse. The private Center for Family Safety and Healing is staffed 40 hours a week - noon to 8 on weekdays. Callers can leave messages during other hours. Cadwallader says the center does not duplicate his county agency's work. " The telephone resource line that the center is running is going to take calls from the public and simply tell them what our number is so they can get to us," says Cadwallader. While the center's campaign is designed to prevent or draw attention to family abuse, some question whether that's a proper role for a private organization. Jack Frech is retired head of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services. "This is so important of a role. It's something that has to go on. We need the public to report when they see abuse of anyone, particularly children. And so I think it really is government's role," says Frech. Frech adds that a county or state agency is best equipped to investigate and stop child abuse. "You know the question is who takes responsibility, who takes responsibility for making sure that when that call comes that action is taken, appropriate action is taken. And I think the farther you remove that from the government entity that is in fact ultimately responsible to do that, it's not so much a risk of duplication it's a risk of people falling through cracks," says Frech. Frech suggests a re-examination of funding levels for public agencies charged with protecting children and investigating abuse complaints. Last year, Franklin County Children's Services investigated 8,000-child abuse and neglect cases . After three weeks of the 'Where's the Line' campaign, Children Services says it has received 57 calls and 29 texts from the Center for Family Safety and Healing. The center's campaign runs for several more weeks.