By Leah Sander
WARSAW — “Kids are (the) priority” of Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Warsaw.
So says Safe Harbor Executive Director Kelly Bugg. That notion also helped her and Kosciusko County Prosector Dan Hampton choose the name for the center.
“That was a struggle,” said Bugg of picking the name. “Because a lot of the advocacy centers are named after somebody and so we wanted the word ‘safe’ because I mean it’s great that the whole team is sitting here together. It’s great for the team, but the kids are our priority and so we wanted something with safe in the name and that’s just what we came up with.”
The Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce had a ribbon-cutting for the center on Thursday, Oct. 14. It’s located in the K21 Health Services Pavilion at 1515 Provident Drive.
The center provides a secure, centralized location where interviews with child abuse victims can occur. It’s one of about 30 CACs across Indiana according to the Indiana Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance, of which Safe Harbor is a member.
Since the center’s start last year, 125 victims and witnesses have been interviewed there. Not all of them were from Kosciusko County.
“Eleven have been from other counties,” she said. “Let’s say a kid was removed in Marshall County by the Marshall County DCS, but they placed them in a Kosciusko County foster home. It would be just more convenient to come bring the kids here.”
Bugg is the one who does the interviews and explained the process to InkFreeNews.
Any abuse must be reported first to law enforcement or the Department of Child Services, who then contact Safe Harbor, said Bugg. Entities then work to arrange an interview time.
The child then arrives with their family for an interview.
“We have the facility locked so that no perpetrators can come in,” she said. “So families ring the doorbell and then there’s a monitor on my desk, that I can see who it is and I can buzz them in and then I take the families to (a) family waiting room.”
“I have a little bit of paperwork for them to fill out, a release for the interview,” she continued. “And I show them I wear an earpiece during the interview, so I show that to the kids and explain it to them, how the interview’s going to go.”
Bugg then checks in with people who will be watching the interview live via video in the center’s conference room. For each interview, there will be representatives from the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, the Bowen Center and the Department of Child Services. A nurse also will be included if there’s “a medical issue” involved, said Bugg.
Those people can talk to Bugg via her earpiece if they have questions.
She then interviews the child one-on-one in a separate room. She noted the child doesn’t know that the other people are in the conference room.
“The kids don’t even know that they’re here, so that it’s less traumatic for them,” she said.
She then goes back with the group in the conference room to discuss the case.
“It’s just everybody at the same table is amazing,” she added. “It eliminates all those phone calls between all those different people, things don’t get lost.”
The group also meets to review cases once a month.
“So things keep moving, cases move faster through the system,” she said of how the process works now that Safe Harbor exists. “And the best thing is, that it’s less traumatic for the kids.”
Hampton echoed Bugg’s statements that the process is more concise and less traumatic for children, which is what the center was established to do.
“So to interview those kids one time, with everybody here, we’re able to get a much more detailed interview and we’re able to use that for the better to identify the needs of the child and of the family and also for possible law enforcement involved, so it’s been very helpful in all those regards,” he said. “I think that law enforcement really appreciates the child advocacy center because, frankly to interview a child takes a very specialized person and to have a police officer do it, some of them are specialized, some of them are not, so here we’ve got somebody who’s specialized and is able to address the needs.”
He said having the location in the county means investigators and crime victims don’t have to travel far away for the interviews, which also means that cases will now all get the respect they deserve.
Hampton serves on the board of directors for the center. Also on it are Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker and Kosciusko County Sheriff Kyle Dukes.
“It’s just a great opportunity that provides the ability for the children to be in a great environment and a safe environment and it really helps with not only obviously the children, but also just the ability to prosecute, to get successful statements that are corroborated by witnesses and it’s certainly about the kids, putting them in the right environment to be able to feel comfortable to talk to authorities,” said Whitaker. “We’ve not had that and other agencies across the country have, and so we’re just proud to be a part of it and excited about the future of the program.”
“It’s truly an asset here in Kosciusko County to have a program like this and for myself and Chief Whitaker to be on the board of directors with the prosecutor, it’s truly an honor and to have our detective bureaus on both police departments be able to come locally and conduct these interviews with the kids in a safe environment, it is truly working and we look forward to what this has in the future,” added Dukes.