Center seeks to be a comfort

10/22/2009

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

SCOTT CITY — The little yellow house that sits on East Ninth Street in Scott City appears just as the other neighborhood houses.

But in the house at 109 E. Ninth St., children are the focus, and staff at the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center work each day to ensure children have a comfortable environment to answer questions about difficult topics.

Kelly Robbins, executive director of the center, said often the questions deal with abuse and sexual abuse in children.

Staff at the center conduct forensic interviews used in cases that deal with children. Robbins said the environment must be comfortable in order for the children to open up during interviews.

When children enter the center, they see a brightly colored living room with furniture, toys and dozens of stuffed animals.

Two dogs, Zen, a Yorkshire poodle, and Zoe, a golden retriever poodle mix, greet people as they come through the door.

The stuffed animals, comfortable furniture, brightly painted walls and dogs all create an atmosphere that eases children, Robbins said.

"We have to make them comfortable to have the children go back and talk to strangers. It's not the most comfortable thing to do," Robbins said.

Last week, the center that covers the whole western Kansas area and has satellite offices in Sublette and Colby, received a $46,647 grant from the Governor's State Children's Advocacy Centers Grant Program. The total center budget is about $270,000.

Child Advocacy Centers across Kansas help support young children who have been victims of child abuse. Gov. Mark Parkinson announced that $934,591 from the State Children's Advocacy Centers Grant Program will help these advocacy centers around Kansas continue the work of their staff members.¬ 

The centers bring together a multi-disciplinary team that can include social workers, law enforcement officers, doctors, prosecutors, mental health professionals and victim advocates.

Children in need of services from the center may be referred by police, courts, teachers, friends or family. Most referrals come from law enforcement and Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Robbins said the grant money will support advocate salaries, mileage from the center's mobile unit, as well as trips for meetings, supplies, insurance, operations and training.

At the center, staff do forensic interviews of children, after setting them in a comfortable environment, in hopes of getting the most accurate truthful accounts from the children in their situations.

Robbins said the process is as much a fact-finding one as it is a start to a healing process for children.

"Most times we recommend mental health therapy," Robbins said.

The center has seen an increase in activity, and Robbins said it may be because of economic times.

"Bad economic times often lead to more domestic violence, and we see an increase in child abuse, or people using our services," Robbins said.

Robbins reported 200 children have used the services this year, the highest number since its start in 2004.

The center also uses a mobile unit to travel to remote parts of western Kansas. Robbins said the use of the mobile unit may contribute to the greater number of people who use the service.

"If people know about the resources and know we'll come to them, they'll be more likely to use us," Robbins said.

Robbins, a retired Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent and co-founder of the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center, said during her previous line of work, she saw a need for these kinds of services for children.

"Child cases are often the most delicate, but they can be the most rewarding," she said.

The center's staff includes five people: Robbins, executive director, forensic interviewer and therapist; David Fyler, program director, forensic interviewer and therapist; Mary Wright, forensic interviewer; Elizabeth York, child/family advocate and Darkness to Light facilitator; and Laurie Barber, child/family advocate.

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