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Crawford group forms three-county program

Child advocacy center goes mobile

September 16, 2009
In a meeting at Beechwood Christian Church in French Lick on Sept. 1, officials from Crawford County converged to announce the formation of the Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center in Milltown. The center will serve Crawford, Orange and Dubois counties.

Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor demonstrates new computer equipment and cameras used when interviews of abuse victims are conducted at a child advocacy center. The equipment also can be taken to sites in other counties when needed. (Photo by Lee Cable)
The new center will be operated in a space donated by the town of Milltown, but will be unique in offering mobile equipment that can be taken to sites in the other two counties to interview victims of child abuse.

Bonita Embry Coots, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Crawford County, worked with Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor to apply for a Department of Child Services grant to fund the center and the equipment needed for the mobile operation. The grant, totaling $68,000, was received recently and steps were taken to implement the plans for the center and mobile equipment.

"The meeting in French Lick was to announce the formation of the SWICAC," Coots said, "and also to introduce the concept of a multidisciplinary team (MDT) team."

An MDT is a group of professionals who represent various disciplines and work collaboratively once a report of abuse has been made, to assure the most effective coordinated response possible for each child. The purpose of all the agencies involved working together is to reduce secondary trauma to the child victims and their families and to improve services. The goal is to determine the facts pertinent to each report or disclosure of physical abuse and/or sexual assault.

The team will consist of representatives from law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, medical, mental health, victim advocacy and children's advocacy center staff from Crawford, Orange and Dubois counties.

Initially, the plan was to furnish a mobile unit that would serve seven counties in Southern Indiana, but, when the expense of fuel and the vehicle were figured in, those involved decided to scale back to a more workable program.

"We decided that serving seven counties just wasn't feasible at this time," Crawford County Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg said. "So, we agreed that mobile equipment, which the grant purchased, was a better option.

"The equipment could be loaded into a vehicle and taken where, and when, it is needed, and it could be dispatched from Milltown. For instance, if parents can't drive from Paoli to bring the child to the center, the equipment can be taken there," she continued.

"We will work to set up two or three sites in each county where we can take the equipment and a child can be interviewed. We will start with three counties and eventually cover all seven," Hillenburg said. "Every child who is the victim of abuse should have the opportunity to be interviewed. And they don't have to pay."

Each agency has a set of basic responsibilities. The Department of Child Services investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect, notifies law enforcement agencies as required, addresses child safety and provides services to the child and caregiver to reduce risk of further abuse. Law enforcement agencies investigate and collect evidence of child abuse. Prosecutor's offices review case reports, make decisions on filing charges and prosecute alleged offenders. SWICAC provides a child-friendly environment for the MDT to meet and conduct a forensic interview in Milltown or provides mobile equipment dispatched to a child-friendly setting where the MDT conducts a forensic interview.

Advocacy services will include sharing information, expertise and experiences with MDT members, providing the victim/family with basic information about the criminal justice system and their rights as a crime victim. They also attend to the emotional safety of the victim and family, provide advocacy contact information, including 24-hour crisis line information and available shelters, and follow up with the victim and family as needed throughout the duration of MDT contact. Medical personnel, mental health personnel and others with expertise in the special needs of a child may be consulted or asked to participate on an as-needed basis.

The grant will allow those who have been involved in working with victims of child abuse for years, such as Hillenburg and Saylor, to extend their experiences and knowledge to others in the region and reach victims outside of Crawford County.

"This is a great opportunity to reach out to the whole region," Saylor said. "I'm excited about the program. This will give us a chance to put more perpetrators where they need to be: behind bars. For those who can't get to the center in Milltown, I will be coordinating the task of getting the mobile equipment where it is needed. I have volunteers who will transport the equipment, and they are all trained in getting the equipment up and running. The center and equipment will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just contact the Milltown Police Department (at 633-2045)."

"This is a great opportunity for the Community Foundation of Crawford County to step up to the plate and help," Coots said. "It's a lot harder to find funding to keep nonprofits going in this bad economy, but the Foundation has been working with nonprofits for years, such as the Youth Service Bureau and the Crawford County Historical Society, that don't have a lot of resources, to strengthen them.

"We have the staff and software to help them get up and running. We will be running this program through the Foundation and will act as their 'back office' support team."

Coots will serve as project manager of the program, which will allow the project to proceed without the expense of hiring staff.

For more information about the program, call 633-2077.

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