WARSAW – Local law enforcement officials have established a new advocacy group for children that will work to ensure young people being interviewed in connection with abuse cases can do so in a safe and supportive environment.
Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center of Kosciusko County Inc., came together at the urging of Kyle Dukes, Sheriff of Kosciusko County, Scott Whitaker, Chief of the Warsaw Police Department and Dan Hampton, Kosciusko County Prosecuting Attorney.
All three are serving as directors for the fledgling organization.
The group’s first meeting was held on Thursday, April 30, and officials chose Kelly Bugg, of Warsaw, as president for the Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center. Her qualifications include being a certified forensic interviewer who has a Bachelor of Science from Indiana University and 33 years of experience in interviewing children regarding abuse and neglect.
The Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center has been created in response to the needs expressed by area law enforcement and the Department of Child Services (DCS) to provide forensic interviews of children a child-friendly atmosphere in furtherance of investigating cases of child abuse and/or child witnesses.
In many areas, including Kosciusko County, children who have experienced physical or mental trauma as a result of another person’s actions are interviewed in settings that may further traumatize the children. Several of these interviews are conducted in the environment of a police station. This type of atmosphere can challenge children in sharing the full and complete statement of the traumatic events that they experienced.
As a result, the children must be interviewed more than one time so that all of the child’s information can be obtained. In doing multiple interviews with the child over an extended period of time after the traumatic event, the child is subjected to relive the events at each interview.
Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center of Kosciusko County is committed to providing a safe and child-friendly environment that supports families throughout the child abuse investigation process.
Similar programs can be found in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Huntington, Marion and Elkhart.
One of the first tasks will be finding a place to conduct the interviews.
Safe Harbor CAC is currently looking for a facility that would encourage a child-friendly atmosphere, Hampton said.
The operation of a Child Advocacy Center is a child-focused, team-based program in which representatives from law enforcement, DCS, prosecuting attorney’s investigators, mental health treatment advisors, medical health treatment advisors and victim assistance all actively participate on-site by observing the forensic interview of the child in an adjacent room.
During the interview and afterward, the team is able to communicate with the forensic interviewer who encourages the child’s interview to be comprehensive, assess strengths and/or weaknesses for holding suspects accountable, and establish any necessary referrals for mental and/or medical health services for the child and the child’s family. This coordinated and comprehensive response is guided by a shared philosophy that the combined expertise of team members, across disciplines, results in a more complete understanding of case issues and better provides help, support, and protection to children and their families as they pursue healing.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates one in six people across the United States has experienced four or more kinds of adverse childhood experiences. In 2018, the Kosciusko County Department of Child Services (DCS) received 627 reports alleging abuse or neglect to children in Kosciusko County.
The Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center of Kosciusko County is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation and can be contacted at [email protected]
Funding for the program will rely on donations from individuals, foundations and grants, Hampton said.