Advocacy Center goal to help kids in traumatic events

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Finding hope for the helpless is one of the main goals of theChild Advocacy Center in McComb, and District Attorney Dee Batessaid help is always welcome from the surrounding counties itcovers.

“It’s important to make people aware of the services it offers,”Bates said. “And to let them know anyone who wants to be involvedis welcome.”

Child Advocacy Center Spokesperson Lori Tate said the centerhelps children through the different parts of court proceedings tomake them less traumatic. But service don’t stop there.

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“Well, you have a collaborative effort when you have a childadvocacy center involved. There’s followup, not just investigationand a court case,” she said. “There’s also followup and therapeuticservices.”

Bates said when a child makes an allegation of a crime such asphysical or sexual assault, they can sit down with a forensicinterviewer who can walk them gently through what happened in frontof a camera.

“It’s a way to find out the story of what occurred withoutrepeating the experience for the child,” said Bates. “The forensicinterviewers ask non-leading questions, and the child tells whatoccurred in his or her own words.”

The forensic interviews and counseling are not just available inthe case of sexual or physical abuse, Tate said, but in other casesas well.

“We conduct forensic interviews when there’s possible abuse orneglect. We’ll also do forensic interviews for victims that witnessviolent crimes, and set them up with a therapist to providecounseling,” she said.

Bates said one of the aims of the questioning is to get thechildren to put things in words they are familiar and comfortablewith.

“The forensic interviewers ask the questions to get the childrento use their own language,” he said.

And because the children are often pivotal characters in acriminal investigation, Tate said they are often referred to thecenter by law enforcement.

“As soon as law enforcement would recommend an interview fromthe Child Advocacy Center, we’d schedule it,” she said. “Then theycome here and watch the interview.”

And after that, she said, the center still offers counseling toget them on the right track to dealing with the situation, ratherthan just dropping them after the court case.

Tate said the idea for the center was born when the center’sfounder saw a need for its services in the southern part of thestate.

“Our agency in McComb was started by Bente Hess Johnson in 1999.She’d previously worked for the Department of Human Services,” shesaid. “There had already been a Child Advocacy Center in Jackson,so she realized there was a need for one here.”

And Tate made it clear that the center is extremelyprofessional, with all the proper credentials a service so vitalshould have.

“I think it’s important for people to know that we’re accreditedby the National Children’s Alliance,” she said. “We’re not justsome mom-and-pop operation.”

And she added that her staff is not only professional, they arealso sworn to confidentiality.

“If anyone in our agency were to breach confidentiality, theywould be terminated immediately,” she said. “We run a backgroundcheck on everyone that works here, volunteers included.”

Bates said one of his aims for the center, which serves 14counties in southern Mississippi, is to help build support in hisdistrict, which includes Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties.

“We’re always looking for help and donations,” he said. “Andanyone who wants to be involved is welcome if they’ve got the timeand the interest.”

The center also needs board members from Lincoln and Walthallcounties, Bates said.

Tate said there’s a job for anyone who wants one.

“We have a number of things from people helping with fundraisersand answering phones, and we have people that do research, too,”she said. “We do need support from all the counties that we servebecause we are non-profit. We’re funded by some grant sources, buta large part of our budget is from donations, and we do need thatsupport.”

Tate encouraged anyone who wants to be involved to contact herat (601) 684-4009, or look the center up on the Web