Child advocacy center available for abused children
ELKHORN–Years ago, children who had been physically or sexually abused had to retell details about their traumatic encounters up to eight times to different police officers, doctors and lawyers. They had to relive and share the abuse with strangers in scary, intimidating buildings, allowing for more pain and less time to heal.
The Walworth County Child Advocacy Center and Walworth County Alliance for Children have come together to save children from this repeated pain with the Tree House.
Designed to look like a warm, comforting home, the Tree House, W4063 County NN, Elkhorn, is a place where an abused child goes to tell his or her story one time to one person. The interview is recorded, and appropriate authorities watch the interview, avoiding the revictimization of the child.
Paula Hocking, who is part of both the center and the alliance, interviews the children. Another benefit to the Tree House is having everyone involved in the case working together under one roof, she said.
The Tree House opened April 15, and Hocking said she interviewed the first child the next day.
Typically, the Tree House serves children ages 3 to 17, but Hocking said the facility will see any person if necessary.
“I believe we should see any victim of a sexual assault, and I will not put an age on that,” Hocking said. “If our team of professionals or law enforcement believe that a 23-year-old needs to be interviewed at a child advocacy center, we will do that at the Tree House. I will do whatever our team feels is necessary and in the best interests of that victim.”
The center is not stopping with the interview process. It will bring in a physician in the fall to work in the medical center that is already built, and staff members hope to add a therapist so everything the child needs is in one place, which s the goal and the best thing for the child, said Sandy Troemel, board co-president of the alliance.
“They used to go to these big scary places after this awful thing has happened,” Troemel said. “We built a center that looks like a house. It's warm, comfortable, and it's inviting because we want the kids to be comfortable there, to not be afraid, and tell their story and start the healing process before they even leave the building.”
The Walworth County Alliance for Children has wanted to build this facility for 24 years. In the last few years, Troemel said, Elkhorn and surrounding communities have come together to make the dream a reality.
Hocking said the way the community has embraced the facility has been “unbelievable.” The contractor, Lakeland Builders Association, categorized the Tree House as a community facility in order to build it at a discounted rate, and students from Lake Geneva area high schools built an outdoor playhouse.
“When you're in the heart of hearing sad things all day long, of crimes that happen to kids, and families that go through terrible things, and to know that they're not alone,” Hocking said. “People really want to make this happen and want to be able to give kids a place that's safe and warm and a place where they're able to tell their story.”
Troemel said the last few years have been difficult, trying to get the project finished and get the word out, but it was worth it.
"Our mantra is children first, and when you put that in perspective, it makes everything else seem pretty easy," Troemel said.