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Advocate connects families, victims to help

By Stephanie Casanova

Families and victims of abuse or neglect who seek help usually have a lot of questions.

Amanda Sheaffer has the answers. If she doesn’t, she knows how to help them.

Sheaffer is the new advocate for families and victims at Stepping Stones Child Advocacy Center.

While children are talking to professional interviewers about their experiences, Sheaffer sits down with the parents or non-offending caregivers and answers any questions they may have. The alleged perpetrator is not allowed in the building.

Many of the children that are taken to the advocacy center are victims of sexual abuse, some of severe physical abuse and some have witnessed domestic violence. The children are between 3 and 18 years old. Sheaffer addresses the family’s needs, and connects family members to resources like medical or mental health services, counseling, safety information, and assistance with finding employment or housing.

Every family gets a folder with an interactive book for the parent and one for the child, which uses age-appropriate language to describe what the child might be experiencing and thinking.

Law enforcement officers will tell families what to expect if their case involves legal charges, but Sheaffer can help families and victims connect with services to help, like the county attorney’s office victim advocate or provide support throughout the investigative process and at court hearings. The center covers Riley, Pottawatomie, Marshall and Clay counties.

Sheaffer follows up with the family once a month while their case is ongoing and can continue to follow up even if their case is closed.

Sheaffer said she enjoys her job because she gets to work with people who need help and want help. She said connecting them with services so they can start healing and coping from the traumatic event their child and family is experiencing is important.

“It’s obviously very sad to talk with them about what they’re going through, but then providing them the information they need you can just see the relief they get from having someone there on their side who knows what the process is and where their family’s headed and how to help them,” she said. Mallory Young, a care manager at Big Lakes, was in the social work program with Sheaffer at K-State. Young said Sheaffer is passionate about helping others and being supportive, not just as an advocate for her clients but also as a friend. “Amanda is very kind and very non-judgmental, which is very helpful in this field. She’s very understanding,” Young said. “She’s also really good at building rapport with people and making them feel comfortable.” After a child has gone through a forensic interview, the investigator and social worker talk to the parent or caregiver about the next steps in the process.

The interview room has two cameras, two chairs diagonally facing a drawing board and a computer where investigators watching in a nearby room can type questions for the interviewer to ask the child as they watch through the cameras.

While the parent or caregiver is talking to the investigator, Sheaffer hangs out with the child in the family room.

She said she enjoys getting to meet all the different children and play games with them.

“They’re all so different and so fun,” Sheaffer said. The family room is a safe space for children of all ages. In a corner, a narrow, wooden bookcase almost reaching the ceiling is filled with board games. Two couches and a rocking chair surround the room and a coffee table sits in the middle of the room. “Our advocacy center is designed to be a safe place for kids,” Sheaffer said. “It’s a comfortable child-friendly environment.”

Growing up, Sheaffer said she was always one to help friends with their problems and has always related to people.

Sheaffer graduated from K-State in December 2014 with a degree in social work. She worked in social services for two years before hearing about the advocacy center job.

As a student, Sheaffer interned at a similar facility in Shawnee and enjoyed being an advocate. “I definitely feel like this is the area of social work that I’ve been wanting to work in,” she said.

Working in a serious and emotional environment can take a toll on a person and finding ways to relieve stress outside of work is important, Sheaffer said.

Having grown up in Junction City, Sheaffer has a lot of family nearby that she enjoys spending time with. She often calls her mom just to talk, but she can’t disclose details about work with anyone.

When a case is particularly difficult, talking to coworkershelps.

“You just kind of learn that, yeah this is a really hard thing,” Sheaffer said. “But also that sense of you’re helping that family is also pretty good self-care in itself, being that supportive person for them.”

Young and Sheaffer sometimes talk to each other about their jobs, or at least what they’re allowed to say without jeopardizing confidential information.

“I think we’re so close because we’re in the same field and it’s really easy to talk to one another about problems at work, within confidentiality, like concerns we have or things we’re going through and the other person can understand so we help each other through that.”

Young also said just being there for each other and meeting up for dinner to talk about things other than work is helpful.

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