Group wants local child advocacy center

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Covington County will have a children’s advocacy center, a place where abused children can undergo a mutli-team approach for allegations of abuse and sex abuse. The question now is when and where.

That’s what Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell and others said Tuesday at an organizational meeting among members of neighboring advocacy centers, medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health representatives, school officials and others.

The meeting marked the first step in a two-year mission in making a local center a reality.

Currently, when allegations of child abuse or sex abuse occur, victims often are interviewed by more than 10 professionals. By having a local CAC, that number drops to an estimated three – thereby lessening the trauma for the child and providing valuable resources for families.

“For two years, the DA’s office and DHR have partnered together to interview victims and prosecute child abuse cases and provide services,” said Lesa Syler, director of the Covington County Department of Human Resources.

“As we work with the children and families impacted by child abuse, it’s always been our goal to identify areas in which our offices and our community can improve our response and services to these cases,” she said. “Our children deserve the best we can offer, and we are committed to providing the best care to them. Now, we’re taking an important step in establishing our own child advocacy center.”

Syler said the timeframe for opening the center is unknown.

“That’s going to depend on a lot of factors,” she said. “First and foremost, a facility to house the center. We plan to apply for grants, and we hope to have things up and running within two years. Hopefully, even sooner.”

Merrell said there is a great need for a local CAC.

“The need is great; the cause is just and we are here for the children,” he said. “There are a lot of evil people in this world. By the time the child gets to us (the prosecution), they are shelled-shocked by the process. We need to change that process, and we can do that by creating a local center.

“I say that it’s not a question of ‘will we have a CAC?,’” he said. “It’s a question of when.”

Merrell said neither his budget nor DHR’s budget can support the center. It will take community partners to make it a reality.

“I’m going to issue a challenge,” he said. “We need support. We need partners.”

For more information on the project, contact the local DHR office at 334-427-7900.