Richards and several other Carroll County residents will soon be touring the county, seeking funds for something they believe in and something they feel the county badly needs — a child advocacy center.
“We’re planning to make presentations to churches and civic groups to tell them why we need it and ask for their donations to help fund it,” Richards said. “We feel like the community will see the need for this after we explain it.”
The Carroll County Child Advocacy Center board, of which he’s a member, met last week and is preparing advertisements for a director to head the center. A director to oversee day-to-day operations is a requirement for the center to become a member of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia, the accredited chapter of the National Children’s Alliance.
Richards said the center will be a place where trained forensic interviewers can talk with child abuse victims. No local center currently exists for these services.
“We have to rely on outside agencies, such as Scottish Rite in Atlanta or Twin Cedars in LaGrange, for these interviews,” he said. “We’ll now have a place available for immediate use, instead of having to wait for two or three weeks.”
Richards said even though the advocacy center hasn’t opened yet, it’s already getting usage requests.
“We’re meeting with the district attorney’s office today (Friday) about using the center next week to do forensic interviews,” he said. “We already have Jill Hesterlee, a trained forensic interviewer, to do the interviews.”
The center will be at 306 Bradley St., adjacent to the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum. The site has been secured rent-free and utility-free for two years. It’s been equipped with the necessary technology to conduct forensic interviews and a team of professionals have been trained in the protocol to conduct the interviews according to the standards of the Georgia District Attorney’s office.
“We’ve had a lot of furniture donated by Tanner Health System and Tisinger Vance law firm,” he said. “The county has furnished the building and Sheriff (Terry) Langley has let us use inmate labor, who have done a tremendous job of getting it ready for our needs.”
In addition to interviewing services, the center will centralize all efforts in helping sexually and physically abused children, by offering prevention, intervention, therapy and collaboration services, all at one site. The center will also help recruit and coordinate more sites for supervised visitation for children and families.
Prevention services will be provided through the national “Darkness to Light” program, which educates the public on how to prevent, recognize and appropriately respond to child sexual abuse.
Hesterlee and Richards appeared before a Carroll County Board of Commissioners work session Thursday to talk about the “Darkness to Light” program and advocacy center plans. They showed a video presentation, “Seven Steps to Protecting Our Children,” which is an introduction to the group’s three-hour “Stewards of Children” training program, which they recommend for all people working with children.
“I went to the training myself,” Richards said, “and we trained every city employee, including the recreation department.”
Hesterlee said the program goal also includes training all school personnel and that staffs at Oak Mountain Academy and Carrollton Elementary and Middle schools have been already been trained.
The training video points out that child sexual abuse affects one in four people and Richards said his law enforcement experience has shown him those figures apply locally.
“Just in the last six weeks, we’ve had five cases reported in Carrollton,” he said.
In addition to Richards and Hesterlee, the center board of directors includes Emily Cole, Andrea Chapman, Susan Fleck, Vickie Fulbright, Jan Gibbs, Charlene Harrod, Dustin Hightower, Shonda Jensen, Terry Langley, Bruce Lyon, Peter Maierhofer and Pete Skandalakis.
People wanting more information about the center can contact Cole at 770-328-4197, or be e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.