Walworth County wants to build child advocacy center

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Mike Heine
Friday, February 22, 2008
— Even without a major metropolitan area, Walworth County is looking to add a big city service. And this time, it will be for children.

Officials from the district attorney’s office, health and human services department, area law enforcement, the Association for the Prevention of Family Violence, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin have teamed up to develop a Children’s Advocacy Center.

The proposed center would be a place for physically or sexually abused or neglected children. Organizers are hoping to have a facility within two years.

“Things have lined up very quickly and very well for us,” District Attorney Phil Koss said. The group, an offshoot of the Children’s Court Advisory Board, is called the Alliance for Children. It received nonprofit status in December and started fund raising for the facility.

The center would be the focal point for addressing child neglect or abuse cases in Walworth County. It would be one place to go for anyone involved in those cases.

Child victims now are interviewed at multiple locations and multiple times. Retelling the story to police, prosecutors, doctors and caseworkers compels children to relive the traumatic events.

Officials want to change that and make the investigation less stressful on the child.

“The idea is to have a unified, systematic approach to the handling of child abuse and neglect cases,” Koss said. “The interview could be done there (at the center) by law enforcement and a forensic interviewer, and there could be a medical examiner (on site). There could be groups there for aftercare.”

Studies have shown an advocacy center reduces stress on a child and results in better prosecution of offenders, Koss said. Aftercare will provide follow-up services for continued therapy.

Children’s Hospital and Health System has five children’s advocacy centers throughout the state, most of which are in more populated areas. Their purpose is to “coordinate the investigation and care for kids, where there is an allegation, where they have been abused or neglected,” said Mark Lyday, director of the child advocacy and protection services for Children’s Hospital and Health System. “It’s about wrapping kids and families around this, when there is an allegation, so they know people care about what happened to them, and they can understand the law.

“We’ll be providing services to kids in a way that makes sense to them, not to just meet the needs of the professionals involved in the case.”

The Alliance has received more than $10,000 in donated seed money, plus a $15,000 grant for equipment.

The idea is to either build a new facility or retrofit an area of the old Lakeland School in Elkhorn, which will be vacant by September, said Evelyn Schulz, a victim-witness coordinator for the district attorney’s office.

Funding would come from grants, donations and state and federal funding. She did not expect any local tax dollars to be used for the center.

Last updated: 4:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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