Harmony House, Inc.
Harmony House’s Children’s Advocacy Center offers a child-focused setting that implements thoughtful policies aimed at minimizing the emotional turmoil abused kids go through as they tell authorities about trauma they have suffered.
Services Cater to Those Vulnerable to Abuse in the Community
Harmony House is a Children’s Advocacy Center serving Belmont County, Ohio (and two counties in West Virginia). Its mission is to serve child victims and non-offending family members in a caring, neutral, child-focused, safe environment.
When child abuse is suspected, multiple entities get involved: personnel at medical facilities, law enforcement, the Department of Job and Family Services, mental health professionals, and prosecution and victim services representatives. This proliferation of engaged agencies can mean that a child who has already suffered physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect has to endure multiple, emotionally exhausting interviews. To minimize that emotional turmoil, Harmony House established a Children’s Advocacy Center to serve as a type of one-stop shop. Its goal is to ensure that children’s trauma is not exacerbated by having to repeat their stories to multiple community professionals. Outside of court proceedings where a child may have to testify, the child undergoes an in-depth interview with a professional at Harmony House to collect all necessary information, in most cases, at a single sitting with one interviewer. These sessions are videotaped ( so information can be shared with all relevant agencies) and following the interview, children are referred for medical exams/treatment and counseling services where all initial necessary information is provided. The model has been made possible through Harmony’s House’s pursuit of a series of inter-agency agreements with all the parties engaged in the child protection field.
Harmony House seeks to serve non-offending family members as well. It extends counseling services to family members and caretakers who are often also greatly affected by the victim’s abuse. The Harmony House model seeks to treat the whole family unit with the understanding that the child does not stand alone; rather, the effects of victimization extend to their loved ones as well. Follow-up physical and mental evaluations are also part of the Harmony House model of extended care. This gives children and their families the reassurance they need to continue to heal and grow beyond the abuse.
This trauma-focused facility began its operation in Belmont County in 2011 and has a multidisciplinary team that has already served 389 individuals–221 children and 168 adults– just during their second full year of operation in 2012. Harmony House’s compassionate care of child victims and their families has gained them the trust of multiple agencies. Recently it has been able to expand its care not only to children but also to adults with developmental disabilities who have been victimized and exploited (and their non-offending family members). According to Leslie Vassilaros, Harmony House’s Executive Director, the staff seek to “communicate to the level of the client.” She is proud of her highly trained professionals and “exceptional” Board of Directors, reporting that all engaged at Harmony House are deeply passionate about advocating for victims in the best way.
Additional factors contributing the effectiveness of Harmony House include:
Services are child-appropriate, culturally competent, and legally-sound;
- Holistic care – physical, mental, emotional assessments and treatment – as well as treatment for witnesses and family members affected; follow-up treatments are also encouraged;
- Dedicated, multi-disciplinary team consisting of prosecution, law enforcement, Job and Family Services, medical professionals, mental health professionals, Belmont County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and victim assistance providers that collaborate to ensure that no child is further victimized by systems designed to protect him or her;
- Following best practices for Children’s Advocacy Centers as reflected in the National Children’s Alliance (NCA) ten standards and accreditation process, Harmony House is an accredited NCA Children’s Advocacy Center.