Medford police Detective Diane Sandler is viewed as a superhero by some of the most vulnerable kids in the community.
That's because she listens with patience and understanding as they tell her their often long-hidden stories, according to community members working to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect.
"Seeing the look on a child's face when they know they're believed is huge," Sandler said.
Sandler was named the Child Advocate of the Year in the law enforcement category during a community rally and festival Thursday in Medford's Alba Park. While kids played games and ate pizza and ice cream, adults learned what community groups are doing to prevent child abuse and neglect — and what they can do, too.
Sandler said while teachers and others who work with kids are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse, she hopes everyone will watch out for kids.
"My dream is everyone would be a mandatory reporter," she said. "Everyone should report child abuse."
In 2016, 954 cases of child abuse or neglect were reported and investigated in Jackson County — an increase from 801 in the previous year.
Sandler said teachers and other mandatory reporters are receiving better training. Community groups are also offering training that helps people recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.
Kirsten Arreguin, an Oregon Department of Human Services program manager for child protective services, was named the partner agency Child Advocate of the Year. She said all the local agencies work together to protect kids and help families become more healthy and resilient.
In the at-large community member category, Doug Lofdahl was recognized as the Child Advocate of the Year.
As director of the Family Nurturing Center's Farm and Food Program, Lofdahl helps at-risk families bond and build connections as they grow food together at historic Hanley Farm between Jacksonville and Central Point.
While advocates for kids might want to focus first on teaching parenting skills, Lofdahl said helping families meet their basic needs is sometimes the best way to create change.
"In developing relationships with families, we realized a lot of families were dealing with food insecurity," he said.
At Hanley Farm, parents can feel good about themselves as they lend a hand on tasks. Families learn to grow, prepare and eat meals together and with the group — forging strong bonds, Lofdahl said.
Organizations on hand at Alba Park included the Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County, the Family Nurturing Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The Children’s Advocacy Center provides a home-like environment where child victims can disclose abuse to law enforcement and child protective workers in a safe, private setting. They can receive services in one child-friendly location.
By redesigning the system with the special needs of children in mind, the center reduces the trauma of abuse, and provides coordinated support services for child abuse victims to begin the healing process.
For more information, call 541-734-5437 or visit cacjc.org.
The Family Nurturing Center provides services to high-risk families plus a relief nursery. The center is seeing results, with kids spending less time in foster care, higher employment rates for parents and more positive family interactions, according to supporters.
For more information on the Family Nurturing Center, call 541-779-5242 or visit familynurturingcenter.org.
Court Appointed Special Advocates help kids as they navigate the court system and, in some cases, adjust to new foster families and schools.
For more information, call 541-734-2272 or visit www.jacksoncountycasa.org.
During April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month, local businesses have set out change collection jars to benefit community groups that deal with child abuse. Donations can be made at Lithia car dealerships, Sunrise Cafe, Central Art Supply, Wamba Juice, Thai Bistro, The Butcher Shop, The Pointe Pub & Grill, Agate Ridge Vineyard, D&S Harley-Davidson, Jackson Creek Pizza, MOD Pizza, Pronto Print, Red Lily Vineyard and Southern Oregon Pediatrics.
Donations can also be made by texting 71777, then entering C4C.
Another fundraiser, the Gamble-For-Good Poker Night, is from 5 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at Lithia Dodge Superstore, 4540 Grumman Drive, Medford. Tickets are $60 at the door.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call the Department of Human Services office in Medford at 541-858-3197, city police departments, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office or Oregon State Police. If someone is being hurt or is in immediate danger, call 911.