Child advocacy center to open

Published 12:05 am Thursday, April 3, 2014

Covington County will soon have its own child advocacy center, DHR director Lesa Syler announced in an outdoor ceremony at Andalusia Regional Hospital Wednesday morning.

The center will be a partnership between ARH, DHR, the district attorney’s office, and law enforcement agencies throughout the county, Syler said

In the beginning, Syler said, the Covington County CAC will operate as a central place where services can be provided to children. Amy Herrington, ER director at ARH, and RN Tammy Joyner have completed the training needed to provide exams for children who have been abused.

“Now, we are able to provide this resource in our hospital,” Syler said, adding that children have been being transported to Birmingham for the exams.

Herrington said she and Joyner volunteered to become certified as soon as the idea of establishing a center began to be discussed last fall. They participated in training at the National Child Advocacy Center in Huntsville. Already, many victims come first to the emergency room, and they were aware of the need.

They also have a commitment from Dr. Joseph Browning to serve as their backup should they need help.

“This will be a place that is more child friendly,” Herrington said of the CAC.

Syler said the group’s goal is to have a local CAC director, and likely a contracted, part-time employee who will conduct forensic interviews. Before than can happen, they must undertake a fundraising campaign to fund the office.

“Once we have certifications in place, we will qualify for funding from the state,” Syler said.

Asked how much money needs to be raised, she said Butler County’s CAC has a budget of $125K per year,

“We’ll be larger, based on our case load,” Syler said.

The goal is to have the space renovated and open in three to four months.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said the City of Andalusia has committed $15,000 in materials and virtually all of the labor to renovate the space ARH has made available for the center.

“This is a wonderful idea,” Johnson said, “and I would challenge others to help us build it out.

“Our children as a group is our most precious resource, and it is exciting that the City of Andalusia is involved in the development of this center.”

District Attorney Walt Merrell used as an example a $20 bill. Even if it has been folded, crumpled, and perhaps torn, it still maintains its value, he said.

“Sometimes, our children get stumped on, crumpled and tattered by people with sinister motives,” he said. “But our children hold every bit of value as before. We can’t throw them away. They are helpless, and they depend on us.”

Ninety percent of children who are abused know the perpetrator, he said.

“If you know someone who is a victim, there is a 90 percent chance you know the person responsible, as well.”