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3 Simple Strategies to Protect Kids from Abuse

October 6, 2020

The first step to preventing child abuse? Talking to children about it. An expert shares 3 tips that will help you start the conversation in ways that even very young children will understand.

mom and child


By Becca Wilbershide
Child Abuse Prevention Specialist
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center


Child abuse is a topic most parents don’t want to think about discussing with their kids. Unfortunately, it is a conversation that must be had. If you haven’t talked to your child about abuse, it may be because you doubt your own perceptions of what abuse is and how it happens. You might be afraid that you or your child will accuse someone falsely. Or, you may be putting off the conversation out of fear that your child will reveal something that is painful to hear.

Talking to your child about abuse doesn’t have to be scary. Below you will find 3 simple strategies to help you have this conversation, as well as some tips on why talking about abuse is important:

Call Private Body Parts by Anatomically Correct Names

According to Psychology Today, when kids are comfortable using the standard terms for their private body parts, they have more protection against sexual abuse. If your child feels awkward talking about their body parts, or if they feel embarrassed about asking questions, they will be less likely to tell you if someone is touching them inappropriately.

Start using anatomically correct names from an early age. You can begin by referring to them during diaper changes, bath time, when the child is getting dressed and/or when it is time to potty train.  If you are already using nicknames for private body parts, it’s okay to start using the correct names now. Make it clear that although your family has its own nicknames for private body parts, the correct names are what a doctor calls them.  If you are concerned about your child getting in trouble with other adults by using the names, then let the child know that these are PRIVATE and they should not use the names in public places, like at school.


Make Household Touching Rules

Have your family all sit down at the table or maybe in the living room and work together to decide which touches you deem safe and unsafe. Display these rules in way that anyone in the family can see the rules at any time. While making the list, talk about touches that are safe and okay to do: hugs, high-fives, knuckles etc., and unsafe: hitting, slapping, kicking etc. Make it clear that the rules apply to everyone inside and outside your home.

While making your list of Touching Rules, be sure to include the “Clean and Healthy Rule.”  This rule states that no one is allowed to look at or touch another person’s private body parts unless they are keeping them clean and healthy. For children, this typically means only doctors and parents. Touching or looking at private body parts under any other circumstance should be listed under unsafe touch. Having this rule will make it easier for your child to know the difference between good touches and bad touches.


Let Them Know They Can Talk to You

Let your child know that no matter what they tell you, that you will always have their best interest at heart.  Tell that that you will always believe them and will always listen to them.  Repeat, repeat, repeat. This lets the child know that you are someone they can trust and talk to if something bad is happening to them, without fear of getting in trouble for what is going on.

When it comes to child abuse there are some easy steps to help prevent it.  Teach your children the correct names for their private body parts, make touching rules, and let them know you will always be a person that they can trust.

If you need help with any of these things or have questions please call Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center at 920-436-8881 and ask for Becca Wilbershide, Prevention Education Specialist. Prevention education is a free service provided by Willow Tree that is available to schools, parents, organizations, and more.

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Willow Tree Raises Flag in Memory of Child Abuse Victim

August 12, 2020

The Child Advocacy Center is paying tribute to a little girl. She died in 2017 as a result of child abuse.

Child abuse memorial flag
A flag flies outside Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center in Green Bay in memory of a child victim of physical abuse.

By Kristie Sickel
Program Supervisor
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center

The flag you see above is one we never wanted to fly outside Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center in Green Bay. We put it up late last week to remember a little girl who died as a result of severe physical abuse. Her abuser was just sentenced to 24 years in prison for her death. Her mother is also charged and awaiting sentencing. That little girl was just 15 months old when she died.

During the investigation, all four of the girls’ siblings were brought to Willow Tree to be medically evaluated for signs of abuse and to talk about what happened in their home. Investigators needed to know if the children had witnessed anything and if they were also being abused. Three of the siblings were older but the youngest was just a baby.

The information we gathered that day at Willow Tree helped our partners get these children to safety. All four siblings were placed into the care of relatives. One of our advocates has provided ongoing support to the family ever since, keeping them up to date on court proceedings.

This case reminds us why Willow Tree is so needed in our community. At the Child Advocacy Center, our staff and our partners work closely together to ensure that abused and neglected children are heard, believed, and kept safe. This is what you are supporting when you support Willow Tree.

When the flag went up on Friday, all three of the little girl’s older siblings stopped by to take a picture with the flag in memory of their sister. It was a truly touching moment and tribute.

Today, August 12, 2020 is our online Day of Giving in place of the 6th Annual Life Saver River Cruise. The event would have raised critical funds for our services. If you haven’t yet donated, please consider making a donation now.

Your support will help more children access forensic interviews, medical evaluations, counseling, and ongoing support. With your help, we can give these children the support they need to be safe and build a bright future.


Willow Tree sees rise in medical evaluations for child abuse, neglect

August 12, 2020

A Nurse Practitioner with Children’s Wisconsin details the rising number of children who are brought to Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center for cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. Why it’s happening and how you can help.

Willow Tree drawing, child abuse
Drawing from a child who was brought to Willow Tree. The drawing shows how they felt before and after coming to the center.

By Jennifer Yates
Nurse Practitioner, Children’s Wisconsin
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center

Over the last decade, the number of abused and neglected children being referred to Willow Tree for a medical evaluation has been steadily rising. Our community partners in law enforcement and social services have repeatedly told us about the value of this service.

As a nurse practitioner with Children’s Wisconsin, and a member of the Willow Tree team, I specialize in the evaluation of these vulnerable children. I am often able to identify abusive injuries in very young children under the age of 2 that would have been missed without proper imaging or screening. These assessments done at Willow Tree to diagnose physical abuse are not often used by other medical providers. However, it is these very assessments that often keep children safe.

The number of children being referred for drug endangerment has substantially increased as our partners increasingly turn to us for these services. I have seen so many vulnerable children test positive for illicit substances like cocaine and methamphetamines. Recently, we screened a 5-year old-boy who was positive for cocaine, methamphetamines, and three other controlled substances that he was not prescribed. Oftentimes, young children get these substances in their system after touching surfaces in the home where the drugs are present, and then putting their fingers in their mouths.

Child Advocacy Centers like Willow Tree initially served mainly victims of child sexual abuse, which now make up only about half of the children seen due to our expanding services for other types of child maltreatment. In cases of child sexual abuse, explaining to children and their families that their body is okay and that they look normal is often a critical step in their healing process, and they are often relieved. Identifying unmet health care needs and providing referrals for mental health services is the goal to help mitigate the adverse childhood experience of abuse.

Without Willow Tree, the signs of abuse and neglect may be missed and children may stay in unsafe situations.

Today, August 12, 2020 is our online Day of Giving in place of the 6th Annual Life Saver River Cruise benefit, which would have raised critical funds for our services. We need your support to continue giving expert medical evaluations to children in our community.

Please consider giving a gift and help us ensure that even more children are able to access our services at Willow Tree!


4 Trends at Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center

August 6, 2020

The recent trends in child abuse and neglect that are being seen at Willow Tree. How the Child Advocacy Center in Green Bay is responding amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Willow Tree Child Advocacy Center

By Kristie Sickel
Program Supervisor/Forensic Interviewer
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center


On August 12, 2020, Willow Tree will host a Day of Giving in place of our 6th Annual fundraising event, the Life Saver River Cruise, which unfortunately had to be canceled this year. The event raises critical funds to ensure that abused and neglected children can access our care.

Our interview numbers at Willow Tree are down compared to last year at this time, but we believe this is due to children having less access to trusted adults and mandated reporters. Willow Tree has, however, noticed a trend of seeing kids that are more severely physically abused, neglected and sexually abused. As well as more kids in need of basic necessities from our clothing closet, such as shoes, clothes, hygiene supplies, etc.

We’ve noticed four concerning patterns related to the pandemic:

#1 – Increased Stress at Home: Children coming to Willow Tree have been experiencing a high level of stress in their home. Their parents or caretakers don’t have support to help them cope with the daily stressors that were heightened by the pandemic. Initially when the Safer at Home Order was put in place, Willow Tree began seeing an increase in physical abuse cases and children who witnessed violent crimes within their home.

#2 – Sibling Abuse: Abuse from older siblings also rose, due to parents working and schools closing. An older sibling might not intentionally abuse their younger sibling. However, they might not have the skills to properly take care of or handle them. Being alone and isolated is a huge risk factor for child abuse as well as economic insecurity, which a number of families continue to face.

#3 – Substance abuse within homes: This also became a trend in cases we are seeing. In June, a 4-year-old boy and his 1-year-old sister were brought to Willow Tree for medical evaluations due to allegations of neglect and drug abuse in their home. Medical evaluations were conducted on both children, resulting in the 4-year-old testing positive for 5 different substances and his sister testing positive for cocaine. Most often, children get drugs in their system from touching contaminated surfaces at home and then putting their fingers in their mouths. Considering the medical evaluation findings at Willow Tree, Child Protective Services was able to remove both children from the home and place them in safer environments.

#4 – Increased Acts of Sexual Abuse: A trend in sexual abuse we are seeing is not that the number of perpetrators is increasing, but rather that the number of acts of abuse is increasing. This is largely due to a perpetrator having more frequent access to the child in their home. Most children who are the victims of sexual abuse are abused by someone that they know and has close access to them. Kids are also spending more time unsupervised online, which is making them vulnerable to child sexual exploitation.

The silver lining in all this is that our community partners, such as law enforcement and Child Protective Services, are bringing these children to Willow Tree. 

By doing this, our partners and our staff ensure that abused and neglected children are physically healthy through a medical evaluation, receive appropriate mental health services, support through advocacy and receive a quality interview from a trained forensic interviewer to assist with the prosecution of any potential criminal charges.

Despite the uncertainty in the world today, one thing is certain: that Willow Tree will remain open to help and support abused children in our community. With your donations, we can continue providing quality care and services to children who have been the victim of abuse.

Please, consider making a donation to Willow Tree using the button below, and help us continue providing critical care to abused and neglected children in our community!

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Protecting Children from Abuse: It’s on All of Us

April 28, 2020

It’s as critical as ever that we watch over the children around us. What you can do to protect them when something seems wrong.

Child Abuse

By Kristie Sickel
Program Supervisor/Child Forensic Interviewer
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center


In times of instability and stress it is not uncommon for rates of child abuse to increase. The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of those times. We know that some children are not safer at home. But while the rate of child abuse is likely going up, reports of child abuse have gone down.

Children are no longer in the places where adults had previously looked out for their safety and well-being. This includes schools, childcare facilities, after-school programs, and other public places. In many cases, children are even isolated from their extended family members. This lack of interaction means children have fewer people watching over them and fewer opportunities to tell if someone is hurting them.

It is important to remember during this time that we all have a responsibility to protect children. If you know a family that is under extreme stress, you can help by doing small things to ease some of the burden they are feeling. Small acts of support in the form of food, toilet paper, children’s activities or an empathetic ear can make a world of difference to ease their stress.

If you have a concern or if something does not feel or look right, make a report to your local child welfare agency. Making a report is asking for help and services from a professional who can further assess the situation. Remember to trust your gut and never assume that someone else will make the call for help.

For more information about abuse or to make a report your area, please visit