Center receives accreditation, aids abused children

Jeanne RoyThe Children’s Advocacy Center in Pomona is getting a lot more attention these days. And after recently securing a much sought after accreditation from the National Children’s Alliance in Washington D.C., the center for abused children expects to be busier than ever.

The center provides a safe environment for sexually and physically abused children to tell their stories of trauma. They are interviewed by a trained specialist while audio and video recordings are made of each session.

“In traditional cases like this, children would be interviewed multiple times by a police officer, the district attorney, child services representatives. It can be very tough on them,” said Jeanne Roy, CAC’s executive director. “This setup allows the child, who has already been through a traumatic experience, to be interviewed by only one person. Often times, the videos we take are compelling enough to secure a plea bargain and the child doesn’t even need to appear in court.

“District attorneys are very happy to see so many of these cases being prosecuted,” she said. “Before, many of these cases would just slip through the cracks. Now we are sending out a message to the community that you are not going to get away with this anymore.”

Law enforcement officials are beginning to recognize the CAC’s strengths in dealing with child abuse and are referring more and more cases their way. Since the center first opened in July 2004, they would interview roughly 3 children a week, Ms. Roy said. But over the last 6 months, that number has doubled.

Claremont police Lt. Shelley Vander Veen said that the center has become a useful resource for detectives in Claremont and an asset to the community.

Police detectives and district attorneys can even witness the interviews from a hidden backroom. During a break, they can request the interviewer to ask certain questions that are pertinent to their investigations.

The expanded demand for their services has the center itself looking to grow. Ms. Roy hopes to hire several more child interviewers and begin their own training courses on interviewing techniques.

The child-friendly atmosphere in the center allows visitors to feel welcome and at home. The center has two waiting rooms as colorfully decorated as any kindergarten and enough chocolate and snacks to feed an entire school.

“Our job is not to make a child talk but to provide a safe environment for them to tell their story if and when they are ready,” said Melinda Wheeler, one of the center’s interviewers.

Children range in age from two to 17. The interviews usually last around one hour but at times drag out much longer, Ms. Roy said.

Ms. Wheeler said that roughly 90 percent of children are very open about their experiences upon the first interview. But others are more guarded and sometimes will require counseling before they feel comfortable discussing the abuse that they have endured.

“Younger children have less trouble opening up than older ones, who are more aware of the ramifications of what they are saying,” Ms. Wheeler said. “Sometimes they have been pressured by their family to keep quiet. Something like this can break a family apart and teenage youths are well aware of that.” The CAC covers 12 different municipalities in eastern Los Angeles County and the San Gabriel Valley. It has worked on more than 400 cases over the past 3 years. Its recent accreditation will open the door for more grant money, Ms. Roy hopes, but the center still mainly runs on donations from sponsors.

“It is not a fun reason to be [here],” Ms. Roy said. “But many times I see a sense of relief in their faces when the children are leaving. They can get on with their lives as soon as possible and get the help that they need.”

– Tony Krickl