CAC begins new service for abused children

Published 7:30 am Monday, August 29, 2022

The Covington County Child Advocacy Center announced this week the implementation of services aimed at providing acute and non-acute forensic medical reviews for children who have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse in Covington County.

The announcement came after ongoing efforts that began in 2018 through a partnership with the CHIPS Center at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Involved in the program is Vikki Vodosia, who serves as the Nurse Coordinator and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for the CHIPS Center.  Vodosia has provided training and hands-on support for local nurses involved in the program.

Prior to getting the forensic medical program implemented, a child who was assaulted or injured would have to travel to Montgomery or Birmingham at the time the abuse was reported to receive medical care and have evidence collected. This can be very stressful on the child and the family during a time of crisis.

“It will be a great relief to children to be able to get care in their own community rather than spending, sometimes over 12 hours, traveling and waiting in a larger setting,” said Covington County CAC Executive Director Melinda Barton. “Last year, more than 12 children had to travel out-of-county for acute forensic medical care. With the generous help of (Vodosia), seven children received non-acute medicals here in our office this past year. These were observed by our staff and was part of their training.”

Barton added that the CAC has added a “HERO” program through a partnership with the Covington County District Attorney’s Office. The program provides 12 facility dogs placed throughout the state.

“Wendell is our facility dog who serves victims in our community by assisting with the children in forensic medicals, forensic interviews, court proceedings and counseling sessions. Wendell started working in June 2020 and has assisted hundreds of victims throughout South Central Alabama,” Barton said.

Acute forensic medicals are performed when an injury to a child has happened within five days. Non-acute forensic medicals are done when a child reports an assault or injury that occurred outside of that time frame.

“The forensic medical exam is an important piece of — not only the investigation — but also the child’s healing. Just to know that their body is OK is a huge relief that allows the child to begin the process of healing emotionally,” Barton said.

Anyone who suspects that a child has been sexually or physically abused should call the Covington County Department of Human Resources at 334-427-7900.  The Covington County Child Advocacy Center works hand-in-hand with DHR caseworkers and local law enforcement to assist in investigating child abuse and neglect. DHR representatives are able to request a forensic medical for a child.

“It is very important that the community protects its children by speaking up when there are concerns about a child,” Barton said.

Local registered nurses who may be interested in joining the CAC’s efforts against child abuse should call the CAC at 334-222-1881 for information on free training.

“I have been working toward using my education and skills to give back to my community and feel this area is where I can best serve,” said Maggie Jones, a registered nurse in Covington County. “Meeting families and children during times of crisis and brokenness and helping them understand healing and restoration is very rewarding.  I look forward to serving in this capacity.”

Those who would like to make a tax-deductible financial contribution to the Covington County Child Advocacy Center can mail those to the Covington County CAC at 125 Medical Park Dr., Ste. 103, Andalusia, Alabama 36420.

For more information about the CAC and its programs contact Barton at covctychildadvocacycenter@gmail.com or 334-222-1881.