Meet Lynn Davis, president and CEO of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center since 2005, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of abused children. Under Davis' leadership DCAC served more families, trained more professionals and raised more funds than at any other time in its history.
Recently, Davis who sits on the statewide board of Children's Advocacy Centers in Texas, lead an $11 million campaign to build a state-of-the art facility. Before taking the helm at DCAC, Davis spent 16 years as President/CEO of Dallas Challenge, caring for those battling substance abuse.
We wanted to get to know Davis a bit better and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about himself, DCAC and the communitites it serves.
Dawn Tongish: How do you describe your mission at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center?
Lynn Davis: Our mission is to improve the lives of abused children in Dallas County and to provide national leadership on child abuse issues. We are here to provide a unique and unduplicated bundle of services to abused children. We help coordinate the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases; we help children heal from trauma. We also provide education and training to our community and well beyond to help raise awareness of this important cause.
DT: Last year, DCAC moved from its historic Swiss Avenue location into a new facility. How has that benefited young survivors of abuse and neglect?
LD: This new $11.5 million facility is a tremendous gift from the community. All of these dollars were raised privately from fewer than 200 donors. We have already seen an increase in the number of children we serve. We are able to help more kids, to provide higher quality and more sensitive services to young child victims and their families, and to educate more people than ever before about how to protect children.
DT: You and your staff have difficult jobs. How do you manage to leave your work at the office each day?
LD: This is an ongoing challenge and one that we try to address in a variety of ways. First, we all stay very tied to our mission and to our core values. Our core values are: the children come first in all that we do; we operate as a seamless team; each of us acts with a servant’s heart. We know if we weren’t here to help lift tremendous burdens from these children that they would be worse off. We know we are making a difference in their young lives. We are all proud and our spirits lifted when we see a young client “graduate” from therapy, meaning he or she has reached certain therapeutic goals. We see the smiles on the faces of these kids. We know we have made a difference. We see it every day. What we hear, what we see – it’s often heartbreaking. But we also see resilience, hope and healing. We keep focused on that. In addition, we bring in helpers from the outside to remind us that our exposure to trauma is real, to remind us to breathe/meditate, to exercise, to take a break and just enjoy each other as people, and to put it all aside as best we can. We pay attention to the need to re-energize and to appreciate the hard work of our teams.
DT: DCAC combines police officers, CPS, counselors, etc, all under one roof. That sounds very unique. Why do you believe this approach to investigating, treating child abuse has worked so well?
LD: This is a best practice model in the country. Before this model existed, children who had been sexually abused, severely physically abused, or who had witnessed a homicide – they were taken to a police station, to a CPS office, and to other environments created for adults. Now they can come to one place that is built for children. They can talk to one of our forensic interviewers, and then police, CPS and our assistant District Attorney can all observe from a different room. This reduces the trauma for the child and also makes for a better and stronger case if it proceeds through the criminal court process. We can also then step in to provide healing services for these children, to provide for any emergency type services those families might need and we work with them for as long as they need at no charge.
DT: What are you most proud of at DCAC?
LD: I am proud of our team – our employees and our partners. I am proud every day that we come together to do this very difficult work, that we come back to do it again day after day, that we are here for these kids. And I am always proud to see these children move from a place of broken-ness to a place of healing. It’s hard not to get inspired by that every day.
DT: Right now, at this moment a child is being abused, still many people feel powerless. What can each of us do to make a difference?
LD: Each of us can make a significant difference in the lives of children. We can learn more for one thing. We have professionally-produced training tools available for school counselors, teachers, those who work with children in places of worship, for parents and for children themselves. Because of the strong need for these resources across the country, we are currently removing our name and “Dallas” from our training DVDs to make them more accessible nationwide. We will launch these into the marketplace in April for schools and other child-serving organizations to purchase for a small fee.
So we can use these resources to become more aware of signs and symptoms of child abuse. We can use these tools to know how to respond if we think a child is in harm’s way. We can learn how to protect our own children from potential harm.
DT: The Appetite for Advocacy Luncheon is coming up, that is the center's big fundraiser. This year the event will feature renowned swimmer, Diana Nyad. What message will she bring to the participants?
LD: Diana Nyad is a survivor. Not just a survivor of her incredible journey in swimming, but she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She will teach us about hope, about healing. She will show us that we can all persevere, we can all do better, we can all move forward. I can’t wait to meet her and hear her speak. I know she will inspire us all.
DT: April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. What three things should we all be aware of to spot a child who is being abused, sexually?
LD: Signs that a child might be being sexually abused, or being groomed for sexual abuse vary, which is one of the reasons this is so hard to spot. A normally very outgoing child might become very withdrawn. A normally very passive child might become very angry and aggressive. Children might resort to regressive behavior – such as children who have stopped wetting the bed – they might go back to that behavior. There could be headaches, stomach aches, fear of being with a particular person.
During April, we are asking our community to Stand Up for Children. Everyone can visit istandup.org to learn more and to request a toolkit for April to help empower those in workplaces with information about our cause.
DT: When you do have time for yourself, what are your hobbies or interests?
LD: I love being out in nature. I am an avid hunter and fisherman. In fact, the walls of our building are lined with photographs that I have taken while out in nature.
DT: Can you pinpoint one day in your career at the center that has been most rewarding?
LD: Certainly everyday there is a small (and sometimes large) miracle taking place in our building, but I would say the day of our grand opening I was overwhelmed with emotion more than once. The true gravity of what we had accomplished hit me hard, knowing that this building would provide hope and healing to the children of Dallas County long after I’m gone.