Four years ago, a place where children could be interviewed and comforted in a non-threatening environment was only a dream for Family Crisis Center Executive Director Laura Patzner and her staff.
Today, that dream has come true with the opening of the Dell Hayden Memorial Child Advocacy Center. Development of the CAC only began a year ago this November.
Located at 1924 Broadway, it is a division of the FCC, said Sarah Schenek, CAC coordinator. She is assisted by family advocate Christina Stein-Reaume,
“We are diligently working to advocate for the CAC and educate the community of what the CAC can offer, Schenek said. “Both Christsina and I have been involved in child welfare for a number of years and have a passion for children.”
Their goal is to have working relationships put in place in our community and functioning efficiently as soon as possible. “We will be knocking on your door just to let you know what the CAC is, why it is beneficial, and where you can help.”
The Child Advocacy Center is a model used nationwide to provide advocacy and services to children and their families affected by child abuse, Schenek said. “The mission of the CAC is to facilitate this through a multidisciplinary response of prevention, intervention, detections, investigation and treatment to reduce trauma while encouraging social change through education.”
To make this happen, there is a collaboration of professionals working collectively for the best interest of the child.
“When a child discloses they have been abused, be it physical or sexual, it can be a very traumatic time for not only them, but the entire family,” Schenek said. Typically the child is exposed to presenting their abuse account to law enforcement, mental health professionals, child protective services, and various others.
“Each time the child has to present this account, they are re-victimized,” she said. The CAC offers the child the opportunity to be interviewed by a trained interviewer specifically in abuse investigations. The child will only have to disclose their account once and it is recorded using cameras.
The recording is then given to law enforcement and ultimately to the county attorney to use in their investigation and potential prosecution of the perpetrators.
The family is then referred to other participating agencies in regards to services they may need. “We help them locate the necessary services and give them and abundance of resources to aid in this difficult process,” Schenek said.
In addition, the center will be equipped to perform Sexual Assault Nurse Examinations (SANE) of the child conducted by certified nurses. This is currently a very stressful process and the child either has to be transported to Wichita or wait for two or more weeks before they can be examined when the traveling team comes to town. “To have this in our community will be extremely helpful and will reduce the additional trauma the child has to experience.”
The CAC is currently accepting referrals from Barton County to aid in the sexual abuse cases that law enforcement and Department of Children and Families encounter. “We are trying to inform the community of our services so that if one should encounter this situation, say a first responder, ER staff, school professionals, etc., to please refer that child to our agency.”
Law enforcement and/or DCF should be contacted to make these referrals. CAC personnel are willing to come and present a training about their services and how to respond if encountered with a situation. “We want to give you the tools to help you know how to better preserve the integrity of the account of the child.”
For now, the center is still gathering materials to make it a family-friendly environment. “We are always in need of others to be involved and pound the pavement. We would love to talk to anyone interested in being an active participant in our mission.”
Among the items they are looking for are: A bouncy seat or exersaucer; shelving or cabinets to hold toys, books (all ages and languages); DVD’s (English and Spanish); tissues; small (dorm-like)refrigerator; crayons; puzzles; cards; boy and girl toys; small table and chairs for children; and other items. “We will accept any donations and appreciate them with open arms,” Schenek said.
The center is named in honor Dell Hayden, Patzner’s mother and founder of the FCC. She was also the FCC’s first director.
For more information, contact the center at 620-793-9941.