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Author: Melissa Brunner*

If you’ve ever considered attending the International Symposium on Child Abuse or “Sympo,” as it’s affectionately called by many, I’d like to share with you my perspective on the conference as a five-time (and soon to be six-time) attendee in the hopes that YOU will decide to make the trip to Huntsville this year! I have not only come to appreciate the value the conference has had on me as a child abuse professional and as a trainer of other professionals, but I know that my colleagues from around the world value what they’ve learned and who they have met at this premier conference.

The conference always begins with a moving, motivating, or eye-opening plenary keynote address. The keynote kicks off the energy for the rest of the week. In years past, I have left the plenaries with an array of thoughts and emotions ranging from newfound perspectives, to rekindled zeal, to heartfelt tears as public figures have shared their passion and gratitude for the Child Advocacy Center model and the professionals who are making a difference in the lives of children.

Sympo is a place to “be with your people” in a trauma-informed, evidence-based learning environment. The child abuse field can often be isolating so it’s validating, encouraging, and educational to spend time not only learning from expert presenters but also networking with fellow professionals who share the same struggles and successes as you. Oftentimes, we make new collaborative connections with those outside our state, region, and even our country since each year over 1,500 people attend from all over the world. Symposium gives us the space to see the field of child abuse from the stage and the balcony. How so? We can learn about specific tips, research, and skills to take back home and apply to the children and families we serve while also being able to see the larger picture of where the field is going in terms of direction and trends.

As far as learning opportunities go, there is a vast number of evidence-based workshops to choose from at Symposium. There is tremendous value in having current research presented from the field and clearly referenced in a form that you can take back with you to your team to use within the disciplines. I have found that the challenging part is deciding on which workshops to attend since I often want to be at more than one at the same time! Symposium provides the opportunity to address all aspects of child maltreatment: there is something for everyone. You won’t find yourself wanting to skip part of the conference due to a lack of dynamic workshops and networking experiences.

In the evenings, some attendees may enjoy exploring the city of a conference or simply finding a comfy place to relax. One rewarding experience you shouldn’t miss when coming to Huntsville is taking a tour of the NCAC campus where you can visit the Children’s Building and Training Center. This event also includes great food and live music in the NCAC courtyard. Make sure you register in advance! Huntsville is also known for the Space and Rocket Center, nature walks on beautiful Monte Sano, and for those who are foodies at heart, many unique restaurants and food trucks to enjoy. Let’s not forget the craft beer trail offering selections of locally brewed beers and spirits to enjoy.

This work isn’t easy so Sympo is a great way to find support, research, build comradery, and discover new ways to approach the vital work of helping children to have hope and to receive healing and justice. I am confident that you will find value in one or more of the multi-faceted opportunities that this conference provides!

*Melissa Brunner has been a Regional Training Specialist with Southern Regional Children’s Advocacy Center for over five years and has worked in various positions within the field of child advocacy and maltreatment for over 24 years. www.srcac.org

Register now for Symposium!

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