Agencies support child advocacy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The district attorney's office is heading up a multi-agency coordination effort to establish a Child Advocacy Center in Pike County.

Representatives from law enforcement agencies, social services and other welfare groups met Wednesday afternoon for the first time to discuss establishing a CAC.

"All of the different agencies have their own functions and responsibilities," District Attorney Gary McAliley said. "One of the main purposes and objectives is to bring everyone together. It's a coordinated effort so we can be more aware of what the other agencies are doing."

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Agencies who participate in the CAC would work closely with one another on child abuse cases involving sexual abuse, physical abuse and sever neglect.

Currently, when child abuse is reported, each agency goes through a series of steps with the victim including interviews and physical examinations. Retelling the account over and over can be traumatic and scary for the victim. McAliley said that a CAC would limit the number of times the child is interviewed or examined.

"The agencies will be working together," Assistant District Attorney Scherryl Harrison said. "We'll have a central location with a formal task force to work together in a coordinated effort."

As a result, the number of times a child is examined or questioned becomes lower. The combined effort should also reduce the number of cases that make it to court, which means the child has one less set of questions to answer.

"It'll keep a lot more cases from going to court," McAliley said. "When the defense attorney sees all the evidence we have, he'll want to settle out of court."

In every child abuse case, the agencies will each have specific jobs. McAliley said the collective response is on of the most important parts of the CAC.

"When we do have a report, the different agencies will each have a protocol," he said. "This will help us know what each agency is responsible for."

The CAC's involvement doesn't end when the legal issue is settled.

"Even after the case you still have people who are seriously affected by the abuse," Harrison said.

McAliley said the CAC also links the organizations together and gives each agency a better way to provide victims with ongoing medical care-whether physical or emotional.

The CAC isn't new in Alabama. In fact, Harrison said Alabama is at the forefront of concept, which is quickly gaining popularity.

She said the CAC in Huntsville is a good example of how a successful CAC works.

Harrison said centers are cropping up all over the state and both she and McAliley felt like Pike County was able to operate one.

"We have used others," Harrison said of nearby CACs. "But it will be nice having one in our own circuit."

Though the CAC would be in Pike County, McAliley said it would service the entire circuit.

"We just feel that Pike County is the place to have the CAC because of its resources and the community's dedication to protecting our children," he said.