GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County has a new resource to support young survivors of sexual abuse. It comes as the Center has seen an uptick in the number of children they're helping.
For those that attend for therapy, their new facility dog Bacon will be there to help them talk through their experiences.
"We have been really excited about the addition of him into our facility and working with him," Marcia Van Soelen, family advocate and Bacon's handler, says. "He's goofy and he's definitely fun to have around."
Bacon is a one-and-a-half year old golden retriever. He and the rest of his littermates all have breakfast food-related names.
He's still bonding with his handler before he officially starts work, greeting kids in the lobby and joining therapy sessions at the Center.
"What Bacon is here to do is really to provide that emotional support," Van Soelen says.
She says Bacon's presence in therapy sessions with kids is critical and could keep them coming back.
"Usually when kids are talking about really hard things, it can bring up memories that will take them back to the trauma that they experienced," Van Soelen says. "Having a dog there can help bring them to that present moment and remember that they're not currently in any harm and they're safe."
Bacon was trained by Paws With A Cause, a local nonprofit organization that trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities and facility dogs for organizations like the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County.
"We really paid attention to Bacon's personality before matching him with the Center," Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator Alexis Bolo says.
"Then, once we were able to determine that his personality was a good fit, we went through and did that basic obedience training and just additional training to get him to calm down a little bit. He's still puppy so he's got puppy energy, but he really has those basic skills that are needed in order to sit and comfort a child."
The need for resources to comfort children, like Bacon, is especially great right now. In 2021, the Center interviewed about 550 children who experienced sexual abuse. That's about 100 more than the year before.
The Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County estimates that one in ten children in Kent County will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
"There are definitely kids that we see that don't end up disclosing," Van Soelen says. "So, we're here for our community to provide education for that, and also educate their children so we can make sure that everyone's safe and healthy."
Bacon will start joining therapy sessions with kids at the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County in a few weeks.
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