“Right now, prevention is being done by volunteers,” said Emily Cole, an advocate who has been coordinating the Darkness to Light program to help people recognize child abuse. “We need a center which would pull all the pieces together and provide one place for prevention, intervention and treatment. If we have an advocacy center, it’s going to make it easier.”
Cole said several people have agreed to serve on a founding board of directors for a child advocacy center. In addition to Cole, other members include Vickie Fulbright, Charlene Harrod, Rep. Dustin Hightower, Jill Hesterlee, Sheriff Terry Langley, Carrollton Police Chief Joel Richards and District Attorney Pete Skandalakis.
One of the services the advocacy center would provide is forensic interviewing of child sex abuse victims. In preparation for future provision of these services, the Carrollton Police Department this week hosted a training session to learn how to interview children. It was attended by representatives of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Villa Rica Police Department, Carrollton Police Department, West Georgia Rape Crisis Center and residents.
“Local children, many from our home school environment, volunteered, with parental permission, to attend last Tuesday and be interviewed for about 10 minutes while training attendees practiced their skills,” Cole said. “They learned how to develop rapport with children, how to assess developmental stages and how to ask different styles and types of questions.”
Richards said the proposed advocacy center is something this area has needed for a long time.
“Right now, if we have a child that needs to be interviewed because of a sexual assault, we have to send them to Scottish Rite in Atlanta or Twin Cedars in LaGrange,” Richards said. “What we’re looking for initially is an advocacy center that can do these forensic interviews.”
He said law enforcement officers aren’t used in forensic interviews, but he had city officers attending the training sessions so they could understand how the interviews are done. He said community trained people would do the interviewing at an advocacy center.
Twin Cedars, mentioned by Richards, operates the Children’s Advocacy Center of Troup County, a program similar to what organizers want here.
According to its website, the Troup County center in LaGrange, was established in 2003 “to serve the abused and neglected children of Troup County in a safe, healthy and child-friendly environment.” The center has two trained and on-site certified forensic interviewers, who know how to question children with non-leading techniques which are legally sound.
The Troup Center said it provides a safe environment for evaluation of child abuse cases. It is a member of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia.