Published November 23, 2020 at 12:48pm
Story by Neha Patel. Photos by Jan Osborn.
Growing up, Sarah Burns knew that whatever she did in life, it would be in service of others. With a passion to help the disadvantaged and those in need, she soon found herself at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC), where she currently serves as their Chief Marketing Officer. In the past year alone, the team at DCAC helped aid over 8,000 victims of child abuse and their non-offending family members. With the holidays drawing near and no plans to slow down, DCAC intends on providing hope to those victims through its annual Holiday of Hope program, even in the midst of COVID-19.
Originally from Grapevine, Texas, Sarah’s family influenced her desire to help others at a young age. “My father is a minister so serving others was always a part of our family,” recalls Sarah. “I knew whichever career I would have there would be some kind of element of service.” Upon entering college, Sarah arrived with intentions to one day work in the nonprofit sector even though there were not many opportunities at her university dedicated to this area of work at the time. Instead, she pursued Marketing and Public Relations as a way to bring awareness and impact to social causes close to her heart. From there, Sarah dedicated her entire career to nonprofit marketing.
Prior to joining DCAC, Sarah worked at Children’s Health, Genesis Women’s Shelter, and Texas Women’s Foundation. She expresses that working with organizations that are in the arena of violence against women and children was something that always resonated with her. “We rely on women for so much in the world and children are our future, but, oftentimes, those two groups are the most disadvantaged.” Thus, Sarah joined the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center in January 2017, where she currently helps raise awareness about child abuse in the Dallas community.
The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center is one of the first of its kind in the country fighting child abuse. Each year, the facility reads over 28,000 reports of child abuse in the Dallas County, and the DCAC team reads and processes every report. From there, they coordinate cases that rise to a criminal offense level and work with various public and private agencies, such as the Dallas Police Department Child Abuse Unit, Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, Children’s Health, and seven units of Child Protection Services, to investigate and prosecute these cases. In addition, DCAC staff, consisting of forensic interviewers, professional mental health therapists, and family advocates, provide resources that both the child and their non-offending family members need to progress toward overcoming the trauma of abuse.
Additionally, DCAC launched a campaign called “Save Jane,” which Sarah leads. The campaign is a creative way to demonstrate that child abuse can affect anyone in the Dallas County regardless of race or age or neighborhood they live in. Save Jane includes a program called the “Save Jane Society” which Sarah describes as a way for individuals to promote child abuse awareness and prevention, as well as inform the public about the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s mission. Some ways that members of the Save Jane Society spread awareness about child abuse by hosting fundraisers, volunteering, running lemonade stands, and organizing donation drives. “You can do it as a family, and not only will it help your kids learn about child abuse and how to protect themselves, but it can also be kids helping kids, and families having a way to give back,” explains Sarah.
With so much occurring under the roof of DCAC, the team works non-stop to aid victims of child abuse, especially during the pandemic. Nevertheless, a few challenges did present themselves during the beginnings of COVID-19 for the agency. In the spring, Sarah shares that DCAC child abuse reports were actually down during this time.
She explains that DCAC saw very severe cases of child abuse from early spring which was due to the fact that people were in isolation, making it more likely for abuse to take place and less likely for someone report it. “You know, just because reports of abuse were down, definitely did not mean it was not happening,” said Sarah. “In fact, abuse thrives in secrecy, so it was kind of the perfect environment for abuse to take place.” However, she says with kids going back to school in person, reports have increased again and are reaching DCAC’s expected levels.
DCAC faces other challenges like implementing new and creative ways to continue to give back and raise awareness. Due to COVID-19, in-person donation drives, fundraisers, and volunteering have been put on hold for the time being. With the lack of interpersonal connection caused by the pandemic, Sarah says that she and the DCAC team are noticing the positive implications of marketing, public relations, and social media but also remain aware of the negatives. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been really noisy,” she admits. “It’s hard to break through when there are so many good causes and great organizations needing more people to get involved as well.” Luckily, DCAC still found a way to give back amidst the pandemic chaos, and it is through their annual Holiday of Hope program but with a bit of a twist this year.
Each year, the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center does a little something special for the child abuse victims called “Holiday of Hope.” In the past, gifts collected from the community were put in a room that was set up like a store where parents or caregivers would come in and shop the store to pick out the perfect gift for their kids. DCAC is unable to set up an in-person shopping experience this year in order to combat COVID-19. Instead, the agency will continue to do a donation drive as well as accept cash contributions to help purchase items off their Amazon or Walmart wish lists and then distribute the gifts themselves. They intend to budget around $150 for each child to ensure that they receive at least a pajama set, a book, and two to four age-appropriate toys or gifts.
Last year, DCAC helped make Christmas a little merrier for 1,800 kids through “Holiday of Hope,” and they are aiming to achieve that same goal this December. “It’s a way to end the year with a smile after having such a traumatic year,” says Sarah.
As a child abuse survivor herself, Sarah Burns hopes that this issue becomes more of a conversation in the Dallas community. “It is a hard topic to talk about, especially when most of the alleged perpetrators are someone that the child knows and trusts. Abusers could be family members, close friends, trusted teachers, or volunteers and I think for a lot of us it’s hard to imagine that trust being violated by people closest to our family. Child abuse is definitely something that our community needs to be talking about more and doing more to fight it,” says Sarah.
She mentions that DCAC’s biggest goal is that every child who needs any of their services receives them anytime they need it. With all the hard work the DCAC team does, she thanks the Dallas area for their wonderful support. “The Dallas community really does come together to help other people and is just very generous. DCAC is able to do this work because of the community we live in.”
The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center is currently taking gift and cash donations for Holiday of Hope from now until Friday, December 11. Individuals can shop their Amazon Wishlist, sign-up to host a toy drive, and donate as well as learn more about the program at dcac.org/getinvolved/holiday-of-hope.
If you are interested in learning more about the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center or want information on the Save Jane Society and other ways to volunteer and give back, please visit dcac.org.
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