GALLERY: Child Advocacy Center celebrates opening of new location

Published 11:00 am Saturday, April 6, 2024

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Covington County’s Child Advocacy Center held an official ribbon cutting and grand opening of its new “home” Wednesday.

The facility was described as more fitting location where children will feel more comfortable while also filling the growing needs of the CAC staff. The office is located in the former Andalusia School Board office at the corner of Sixth Avenue and College Street.

The CAC’s previous location adjacent to Andalusia Health was approximately 1,200 square feet while the new location is almost 3,000 square feet.

“We have grown with our services, so we wanted a bigger space to better serve our children,” said CAC Executive Director Mindy Barton. “Andalusia Health has been so supportive of us since the beginning by providing us with our first space. This new space will allow us space for continued growth.”

The CAC was established in Covington County by Department of Human Resources Director Lesa Rathel and District Attorney Walt Merrell in 2015. As the speaker at Wednesday’s grand opening, Merrell explained the importance of the organization.

“Lesa was the brain trust behind this. I remember like yesterday, Grace Jeter, a longtime prosecutor, and I were sitting in an interview room watching on closed circuit television an interview taking place in the room next door. It was awkward and difficult, almost excruciating. What we saw was a very well-intended, compassionate seasoned investigator talking to a 10-year-old girl about the awful things that had been done to her. When it was over, Grace said to me that she felt the system was retraumatizing children over and over again. I was burdened by those comments. It wasn’t long after that Grace and Lesa found the solution,” Merrell said.

With that, the seeds for the CAC were sown with the goal of providing a more comfortable space and eliminating the need for multiple interviews.

“If there was a revelation at school, the child would speak to the guidance counselor, the principal, a social working at DHR, then a police officer, then a detective, then a prosecutor and then a judge. Gone are the days of the repetitive questioning that often times harmed the child more than it intended to help,” Merrell said.

At the CAC, a child, and the other organizations involved, can receive almost everything needed to move forward.

From DHR, law enforcement, the court system, and the community as a whole has helped make the Covington County CAC a success, according to Merrell.

“We wouldn’t be here today if not for those who support us. This is a community effort and we could not do it without them,” he said.

He also thanked the City of Andalusia’s role in finding the new location.

The new facility is expected to provide a more welcoming and comfortable setting for the children.

“Imagine going through the doors of this home versus entering a hospital. To a child there is something scary and intimidating about that type of environment. We can now do everything here, including medical examinations,” Merrell said.

The district attorney said the CAC has served over 1,000 children since it opened in 2015 and “thousands upon thousands of counseling hours.” Last year, he said there were over 500 confirmed examples of child abuse or neglect reported by DHR in Covington County.

Following a ribbon cutting hosted by the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, those in attendance were allowed to tour the facility.

During the program, Straughn Elementary Pre-K students performed.