Lions, CAC to partner to raise funds for children

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sight conservation has long been a focus of the Andalusia Lions Club, but the local organization is keeping with the old, while adopting a new service partnership – the Covington County Child Advocacy Center.

Lions Club International promotes four areas of service for its organizations – vision, youth, hunger and environmental.

Millions of children suffer from poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse, neglect, disease and disabilities.

The Child Advocacy Center opened almost a year ago, and the board recently hired Kaci Perry as the executive director.

At Wednesday’s Lions Club meeting, District Attorney Walt Merrell, who is also a Lion, brought Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter, Investigator Nickey Carnley and Perry to the meeting to discuss the benefits of the CAC.

Jeter, who is the primary prosecutor for child abuse cases, talked about the benefits of being able to have the forensic interviews at the CAC and how it helps prosecute child abusers.

Jeter explained that if a child tells a teacher he or she is being abused, school administrators contact the Department of Human Resources and local law enforcement, who come out and investigate.

Instead of a child having to speak to many different officers, a forensic investigator brings them to a room that is child-friendly and the child can color or play with play-doh and other things while he or she tells what happened.

Others who are involved in the process watch from the conference room on closed circuit television and the interview is recorded.

Jeter said there was one instance where a little girl was sexually abused at the age of 3 and by the time the case was tried in court, the girl was 6 and had blocked out all memories of her father, who was her abuser.

Since the interview was recorded, the state was able to have her daycare worker take the stand and then play the video of the forensic interview.

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The accused was found guilty, she said.

Carnley, who is a long-standing member of local law enforcement and the retired Opp Police Chief spoke how the CAC is a huge improvement over how things used to be when investigating child abuse.

Carnley said that previously, children had to come to the police department and talk to male officers. He said the rooms were drab and not kid-friendly. It often took several trips to get the child to trust an investigator.

Now, Carnley said children get to talk to women forensic investigators, which he said makes the process go a lot smoother.

The Lions Club is planning a fundraising event for the CAC as well as a membership drive. The event is expected to talk place sometime in April.