Caring for Alabama children is the norm for Elizabeth Wheatley in Fort Payne

Caring for Alabama children is the norm for Elizabeth Wheatley in Fort Payne
Elizabeth Wheatley stands in front of a sign in her Fort Payne office that reminds everyone who walks in why the nonprofit is there. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”

That statement is prominently displayed on the office wall of Elizabeth Wheatley, executive director of the DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center in Fort Payne.

Wheatley lives with that statement every day. The work of preventing and dealing with child abuse can be daunting, but when she meets children and hears their stories, she tries to connect with them and help them push through.

“The last couple of days have been especially difficult because of requirements from funding sources, but when I think of the stories and the children who have come through these doors, I’ll open the next envelope. It’s all worth it,” Wheatley said.

Since 1993, the nonprofit DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center staff has provided forensic interviews, therapy for abuse victims and at-risk students, family violence prevention programs and presentations about bullying. The staff provides parenting education and makes presentations for high school students about preventing dating violence.

“For our forensic interviews, we interview children from ages 2-18, and follow a strict nondiscrimination policy. For our therapy, we have a priority list: If the child has been interviewed here, or if they have been referred to us by Human Resources, then they are automatically accepted,” Wheatley said.

Wheatley is not only a solution-oriented leader, she is driven by results.

“The result of our work is No. 1, that we have given the children a place to come to talk about those difficult things. No. 2 is that we provide our materials to the various agencies such as Department of Human Resources and law enforcement agencies. Then, once a month, we have a case review meeting where all the departments come together to ensure the wellness of the child,” Wheatley said.

Wheatley stood next to that quote on the wall, looked at it and said, “Just to think that the wonderful staff here and I play a small part in combating this — well, what else could you want?”

What else, indeed.

 Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected]

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