Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Raising money, awareness for advocacy center

by Rob Ireland

October 11, 2012

Last week, the Walworth County Alliance for Children broke ground on its Child Advocacy Center and is now in the process of raising money for the building, which is designed to provide a safe environment for children to discuss their physical or sexual assaults with law enforcement.

So far, more than $115,000 has been donated to the construction of the building, and it has an expected cost of about $620,000. The WCAC has a loan to fund the project until donated money can pay for it.

The Child Advocacy Center will be located on Highway NN next to the Health and Human Services building and across the street from the sheriff's department.

"A Child Advocacy Center is a child-focused program in which representatives from many disciplines, including law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy, child advocacy, work together at the center to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases," according to the WCAC website. "The Child Advocacy Centers of Wisconsin strongly believe that the combined professional wisdom and skill of the various individuals involved in the team results in a more complete understanding of the case issues and enables the most effective child-and family-focused response possible."

Margaret Downing, who is the community representative director, said she anticipates the building will be open in April.

The WCAC is receiving no state or county funding for the building and is relying on donations.

The advocacy center includes multiple interview rooms and medical exam rooms.

Last year, the WCAC interviewed more than 959 children and about 25 percent of those interviews resulted in criminal charges, Downing said.

Raising funds

On Thursday about 100 people attended a fundraising event at Grand Geneva Resort for the group.

Underneath the Pavillion at the resort, between servings of soup and salad, attendees listened to speakers tell their personal stories about working with the WCAC and child abuse.

One speaker, a volunteer with the organization, told guests she and other family members were victimized as children.

She told attendees that she came from a prominent family and wanted to share her story to let the guests know that child sexual assaults cross all socio-economic lines.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch talked about her experience as a news anchor covering sexual assault cases, and she was warned the cases will be harder to cover after she became a mother.

"I thought how can I not report them with empathy," she said. "When I had my first baby, those stories did move me to tears."

Kleefisch also rattled off statistics about sexual abuse and the number of children affected by it throughout the country and state. She said the Walker/Kleefisch administration has increased funding for the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

The task force was created in 1998, and Kleefisch said eight additional positions were added this year and another 11 will be added in 2013.

Kleefisch also encouraged the women in attendance to donate money to the WCAC, and to help give those who don't have a voice a chance.

Paula Hocking, the Director of the Child Advocacy Center, discussed her experience as a social worker interviewing children who had been abused.

Hocking, who in her more than 20-year career has interviewed roughly 5,000 children, said the facility will reduce the number of times children have to share their stories of abuse.

When she began her career, children usually first told their teacher about the abuse and that teacher then brought the child to a guidance counselor.

The schools would then contact a social worker, who would then contact a uniformed police officer. From there the child would be transported to the hospital for a medical exam, Hocking said.

Then the child told their story to a nurse and a doctor.

A parent or parents would then be contacted and the child would tell them the story again.

With the Child Advocacy Center, victimized children would have to tell their stories fewer times and all of the needed resources would be in one building.