By CHRIS AGEE
Various regional agencies handle distinct aspects of child abuse and neglect cases, though the recent addition of a countywide children's advocacy center promises to help bring those resources together for a common goal.
From law enforcement to the prosecution of offenders, an incident of child abuse can result in a long ordeal that often affects the young victim severely.
Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan explained that without the Children's Alliance Center of Palo Pinto County, children can often face compounded traumatization with multiple interviews.
While child victims were previously transported to Cook's Children's Hospital in Fort Worth for the services of expert forensic interviewers, Sullivan said the new Children's Advocacy Center "almost becomes a one-stop shop."
Bringing together individuals trained to work with both children and adults – specifically interviewers – can minimize the negative impact of such situations on those testifying.
"They know the right buttons to push and know when to back off," Sullivan explained.
CAC is merely one part in a much larger system of dealing with child abuse, though. Information gained through interviews at the center is also shared with other agencies and can also be used in court as victim testimony, Sullivan said.
"With it being recorded, all agencies get the same information," said CAC Board Member Joy Eaton.
CAC, consisting of individuals from diverse disciplines, handles a variety of vital investigative services, including collecting photographs, treating medical needs and coordinating case reviews among its members.
A number of other agencies fulfill vital roles in handling the sensitive cases, such as Child Protective Services and Court Appointed Special Advocates.
CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties Executive Director Barbara Tucker explained the role of her organization in the process.
"CASA only enters the picture after the child has entered the custody of the state," she said.
CASA volunteers are integral to cases, as they spend time getting to know the young victims and act as the judge's eyes and ears outside of the courtroom during a trial.
Tucker explained 29th District Judge Mike Moore puts an added emphasis on the importance of the advocates, appointing them as guardian ad lightem in the case.
"Legally, when you sign up to become guardian ad lightem, you are legally bound to complete your duties," she added.
She said the influence of an advocate on a child's life might not be known right away, but can often lead to breakthroughs later in the case as the victim becomes more comfortable around the familiar face.
Other organizations, such as the Rainbow Room, located at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services headquarters in Mineral Wells, work to meet the needs of children in need.
By providing emergency needs for those children taken into protective services, resources go directly to young victims of abuse who are often removed from a situation with just the clothing they were wearing.
Those involved in the establishment of CAC emphasized the complex network of individuals and agencies that provide input in child abuse cases. The center will serve as a reciprocal base for that breadth of knowledge and experience.
After a case leaves CAC, it is presented to the district attorney, at which point a suspect is either charged or the case is refused.