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Dallas Children's Advocacy Center Shows How Kids Heal From Abuse

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Rescued from a locked cage amid filthy conditions, four malnourished Wise County children are now in foster care.

Their parents face child endangerment charges.

The headline-grabbing case makes some wonder what the future holds for these traumatized children and can they recover?

"It can be a part of something that happened, it can be a scar," says Kelly Slaven, Chief Clinical Officer at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center. "It doesn't have to be the driving force in their life."

Slaven has spent the past two decades staring down the horror of child abuse and replacing it with hope.

"I think the statistic is 80 percent of brain development is formed by the age of 5, so we want to really pour a lot into these littles and make sure they're doing okay by the time they leave these doors."

CBS 11 asked her how, in a cozy therapy room at the center, furnished to look like a family room.

Games were on the coffee table and a large container of sand looked primed for play.

Dallas Children's Advocacy Center
Dallas Children's Advocacy Center (CBS 11)

But the hands of trained therapists, the sand and miniatures that resembled Moms, Dads and other possible fixtures in a child's life, become tools for treatment.

"This might be a kiddo talking about their world," said Slaven, showing us how the play therapy works. "They may create a lot of things that show us danger... They get to do with this with that want...some kids will simply use the sand for soothing as they talk."

She says all therapies at the agency are what she calls 'evidence based.' They range from clinical and complicated to surprisingly simple, like helping a child abuse survivor talk about what happened, equipping caregivers to know what to expect in the aftermath of abuse, and making sure children are safe and supported once the abuse ends.

"We hear a lot of horror stories and then we get to watch kids build back their lives and become that whole person again," says Slaven. And their efforts are validated every day as children 'graduate' from the agency's services.

"We do an amazing thing here called graduation. All of the staff goes down and lines the hallway... this kid runs through the hallway, high-fiving on each side, and there are 50 people cheering about the work that they've done. And that is beautiful! It helps all of us with our own wellness."

Advocates say anger over what deputies discovered in Wise County is understandable, but they are also hoping that anger spurs the community to action: reporting suspected abuse and getting involved with helping the survivors.

"With the right support and the right help, these kids get better," she said.


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