Community Partners is a continuing series of profiles of people and organizations serving alongside One Place and its Child Advocacy Center in the fight against child abuse in Onslow County. This article features Jameszetta Hardison, a licensed therapist and psychological health services provider who has served on the front lines in defense of children in Onslow County for more than three decades. She has been an important member of the CAC’s Multidisciplinary Team since its inception.
By the door of Jameszetta Hardison’s office hangs a frame around the words, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Kindness not only is found in artwork on the walls of Hardison’s office, but it also resonates in her voice. It lies at the foundation of her work, evident as she talks about her many years as an experienced mental-health professional.
And it is thread that connects her to One Place, which refers young abuse victims to her for follow-up treatment for the trauma they have endured. “We have a really unique One Place,” she said. “This is one way the children and their families receive the services that are needed.”
There is a shared mission, as Hardison described it, of “not letting the system make things worse.”
When Hardison first started her career, she worked with many adults who were suffering from depression. She gravitated toward working with young people to get their lives on a better track so the issues would not continue through another generation. “A lot of the depression started in adolescence and childhood as family issues,” she said. “There was some kind of victimization, maltreatment or pretty significant neglect in the family.”
That concern also drew her to One Place and its Child Advocacy Center. “Jameszetta was one of our original mental-health care providers,” said Kathleen Holbrook, the CAC’s director. “We’ve been open for 12 years, and she has been a part of it the whole time.”
In addition to treatment that she is contracted to provide to children under referral, a critical part of Hardison’s role with the CAC is participating as a member of its Multidisciplinary Team. The Multidisciplinary Team is comprised of representatives from every law-enforcement agency in Onslow County, as well as members involved in prosecution, mental health, child advocacy, medicine, child-protective services and other disciplines. The MDT has a mission of providing a path forward for victims of child abuse.
Hardison’s experience in treating victims as well as offenders makes her an important member of the team. “It actually works out very well for us,” Holbrook said. “We can’t work with juvenile offenders per se, but she can make recommendations for the offender.”
Sometimes the offender also has been a victim, complicating the response. “When somebody has sexually assaulted them, they may try to show what they have learned on other kids,” Holbrook said. A young offender who responds to therapy, but that’s not always the case; it can also become a lifelong problem. The immediate concern is potential risk to other children in the household.
Hardison said the average age for offending is between 13 and 15. “There are a lot of things going on,” she said. “Statistically, if you can get them into treatment, they have a high probability of not acting out again.” She referred to a “rule of thirds” that applies to young sex offenders. “Some kids won’t act out once they are caught or found out. Some kids may stop on their own. And some may not stop unless they are forced to stop.”
The value of having someone with Hardison’s background on the MDT comes into focus when deciding what to do if the offender remains in the household. As Holbrook puts it, Hardison brings a “new professional lens” to the assessment, with background on what situations are unlikely to change, leaving the victim and other household members exposed to continued danger.
“We are looking at safety for the child (victim),” Holbrook said. “Is the child getting their medical needs met, their mental health needs? Sometimes children are left in environments that are not safe for them.” The MDT could decide to become involved to prevent a victim from having ongoing contact with an offender.
“What’s unique about Jameszetta is that she has a level of respect that others may not,” Holbrook said. “When Jameszetta speaks, people listen. She is a very quiet, thoughtful, introspective individual. There is a hush that falls over the room. Everyone stops talking and listens to her.”
Hardison received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in clinical psychology from North Carolina Central University. She has been married for 30 years to Paul Hardison, a retired chief district court judge who continues to fill in on the bench to relieve a judicial backlog made worse by COVID. They have a blended family of six children.
Hardison has used her vast training and experience to make a difference in the community. “She has invested her whole professional life in Onslow County,” Holbrook said. When Holbrook first started working in the field around 1987, Hardison already was active and working on abuse cases with what was then the Onslow County Mental Health Center. The center worked with groups that functioned as multidisciplinary teams. When the Child Advocacy Center was organizing in 2010 under the umbrella of the Onslow County Partnership for Children (now One Place), Hardison was a key part of the process.
Once the CAC opened, it contracted with Hardison to provide mental-health services. She completed extensive training to become certified in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and continues to work as a provider of psychological and therapeutic services in private practice. She works in both inpatient and outpatient settings as well as providing consultation to the legal system, the Department of Social Services and One Place’s CAC.
As the recognized need for mental-health services for child victims continues to grow, One Place is moving toward a permanent home with expanded facilities to offer more in-house mental health services to its clients. Holbrook said the need to continue contracting with external private-treatment providers will remain because of the demand.
And the demand is great. “There are some kids who don’t show overt signs or symptoms of a trauma response,” Hardison said. “But you do need to give them the opportunity to try and address it. Everybody who goes through it doesn’t need trauma-focused therapy, but they do need trauma-informed therapy, at the very minimum.”
Hardison said the reward of seeing a victim making a breakthrough is well worth the effort. “Midway through, they start to get a sense of confidence. They say, ‘I can talk about these things. I am going to be OK. This bad thing that happened to me doesn’t have to define who I am as a person.’”
Hardison described One Place’s plans to expand services as “fantastic,” especially for the families whose lives have been disrupted. “My impression is—big picture, long term—to actually have mental-health professionals on staff, once the kids come in and they go through the initial interview process, they can go ahead and start services in an environment that is super friendly…. For all intents and purposes, it will be a one-stop shop.”
For more information on the One Place Child Advocacy Center visit www.oneplaceonslow.org/our-work/child-advocacy-center/