National Child Abuse Prevention Month is this month. This is a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, as well as to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and their families.

That is the 24/7 job of the multi-disciplinary team of staff and volunteers at Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Centers (ECCAC) in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. ECCAC is a part of the National Children’s Advocacy Center non-profit organization. There are 777 Centers across the country, with 27 of them located in Florida. In ECCAC’s 18-year history, right at 12,000 children have received more than 50,000 services at no cost to include mental health therapy, crisis intervention, referrals to other community providers, interviews and medicals.

Earlier this month, ECCAC received an official proclamation from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declaring Child Abuse Prevention Month in Florida, stating it is vital that individuals, businesses, schools and community organizations make children a top priority. At ECCAC’s Niceville center, the governor’s proclamation was read by Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mike Smith. And, at the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs, Maj. Audie Rowell, ECCAC board member and officer with Walton County Sheriff’s Office, read the proclamation to attending guests.

Julie Porterfield, ECCAC’s CEO commented, “It is disturbing to know that there are approximately 1,100 cases of child sexual and physical abuse reported annually in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, an average of three a day. Despite those big numbers, nearly 2/3 of the actual needs to help child victims go unmet due to lack of reporting to authorities. It is estimated that for every one child ECCAC helps, there are two children out there who are not helped.”

That is why National Child Abuse Month is so important because of the awareness it creates. Prevention is the best protection against child abuse.