By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — Trauma experienced in childhood can have long-lasting effects.
Studies show this impact extends into adulthood, where those who experience trauma as children are at increased risk for health issues, such as heart disease, later in life.
In addition, retraumatization can occur when the child relays their story of traumatic events they experienced or witnessed — for example, during a forensic interview.
Warsaw Resident Kelly Bugg and local law enforcement officials are taking steps to address this with the launching of the 27th child advocacy center in Indiana, known as Safe Harbor.
Bugg spent 33 years working at the Department of Child Services in Kosciusko County where she did investigations as an assessment caseworker. She retired from DCS in September 2019.
She will now have the opportunity to help victims of childhood trauma in another setting — as president and executive director of the Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center.
The Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center was created in response to the needs expressed by area law enforcement and the Department of Child Services to provide forensic interviews of children in a child-friendly atmosphere during the investigating of cases involving child abuse and/or child witnesses.
Forensic interviewing is conducted in order to gather information about possible incidents that a child may have experienced or witnessed and may also be used to assess the safety of the child’s living arrangement.
In the past, children who have experienced trauma have often been interviewed in settings that can be daunting.
“Interviews are done at the police station,” Bugg said. “And we try to make that not traumatic for kids, but it’s really, really intimidating.”
Bugg, who graduated from Warsaw Community High School in 1983 and from IUPU in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science degree, is a certified forensic interviewer.
According to Bugg, she and Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton have been discussing for years how children in the community are interviewed.
Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker and Winona Lake Police Chief Joe Hawn were also involved in the conversations. After Sheriff Kyle Dukes was elected in 2018, he became involved as well.
The Center will be in the back area of the K21 Health Pavilion on Provident Drive in Warsaw and is expected to be operational by Oct. 1.
Once Safe Harbor CAC is ready, Bugg will be contacted when a report is made to DCS or law enforcement. She will then assemble the multi-disciplinary team. The team will consist of Bugg, law enforcement, a DCS caseworker, a mental health representative, someone from the prosecutor’s office and, in the case of certain sexual abuse situations, a nurse.
“We will coordinate our calendars to get that interview scheduled as soon as we can,” Bugg said.
The family will then come to Safe Harbor where they will be buzzed into a family room. Bugg said the family room will look like a living room and will include a television, art supplies and an aquarium.
“It’s not going to look like an office,” Bugg said. “It’s going to be comfortable and child-friendly.”
The interview will take place in a small room, with the child and Bugg being the only two in the room. The interview room is equipped with a camera so that what happens in the interview room will play on a television monitor in the observation room, where the other members of the team will be located.
Bugg will wear a two-way earpiece so that the rest of the team can radio questions to her. Coordinating the interview in this way has been shown to minimize system-induced trauma in the child.
Safe Harbor will not have set hours. Instead, the multi-disciplinary team will meet there to perform interviews whenever the need arises, regardless of the day or time.
“My experience with DCS has prepared me for this,” Bugg said.
She is certified in Finding Words and Child First, two methods of interviewing, aimed at youth ages 0-18.
“The questions are open-ended so that the kids are not prompted in any direction,” Bugg said.
It seemed inevitable that Bugg would work with children in some capacity. In high school, she worked at a daycare center.
“Parents and co-workers always said ‘You have such a gift, you should be a teacher,’” Bugg said, “But when I had my first practice teaching class, I decided it wasn’t for me.”
Instead, she majored in criminal justice and began working at the Department of Family Services after college. She started out issuing food stamps before being promoted to do eligibility and then promoted again, to child services.
She and her husband, Shannon, have two children — twin daughters, Erika and Emily. Shannon is the office manager at Lakeside Chevrolet.
They reside at Chapman Lake where Bugg said they enjoy boating. She also enjoys reading and crafts.
Bugg said her family is “greatly supportive” of her work with the child advocacy center.
When asked what she hopes to achieve as president of the Safe Harbor CAC, Bugg is quick to point out that she isn’t doing this alone.
“It’s everybody that’s on this team. What I want people to know is that Dan and Scott and Kyle, and all these people that are putting this together grew up in this community and we’ve had discussions about how many different people it took to raise us and to inspire us to stay here and make things better,” Bugg said. “And this is something we’ve always dreamed of doing — to just have a better, friendlier, less traumatic place for kids to come to tell their story.”
“Our goal is to lessen the amount of trauma for kids. Our goal is for kids to feel comfortable,” Bugg said. “We want increased prosecution, we want a safer community.”
The Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center of Kosciusko County is a nonprofit organization and has received grants from the Kosciusko County Community Foundation and the Criminal Justice Institute.
Safe Harbor CAC is accepting donations. Charitable donations can be sent to Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, 1515 Provident Drive, Warsaw, IN 46580.