Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

WCAC's Tree House takes on child abuse

by Rob Ireland

August 08, 2013

ELKHORN — The Walworth County Alliance for Children celebrated a victory against an unpleasant reality with music, singing and speeches.

On July 31, the WCAC’s Tree House held its grand opening at W4063 County Highway NN, directly across the street from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department.

State legislators, Walworth County supervisors, judges, prosecutors and philanthropists attended the event. So did the volunteers who constructed the facility, people who donated money and individuals who wanted to show their support for the effort.

However, the grand opening was also a celebration for those not there, children who are or will become victims of sexual and physical abuse.

The Tree House is a place for victims to discuss traumatic events with therapists and law enforcement. It is a place where cases are built against predators and where children can begin healing from the emotional and physical scars.

Nancy Neshek, a WCAC Board member, introduced speakers and reminded those in attendance that the Tree House was built without tax dollars and that it is funded entirely through donations.

Paula Hocking, a child forensic interviewer, said last year she interviewed more than 300 children and those numbers are growing.

“The Tree House will bring prevention,” Hocking said. “We will educate people to stop child abuse.”

Deputy District Attorney Josh Grube, who handles most of the county’s sexual abuse cases and recently received the Voices of Courage award for that effort, said these cases “leave a footprint on the heart.”

“We take these cases very seriously,” Grube said. “We have created an environment where children step forward and feel safe.”

Grube also thanked Judge Philip Koss, who started talking about a building for the WCAC in 1989.

“He started taking the tough cases that other prosecutors around the state wouldn’t touch,” Grube said.

Grube said these types of crimes aren’t pleasant to talk about.

“If we don’t talk about it, we aren’t going to change it,” he said.

The Tree House

Children come to the Tree House because of a traumatic event, and the builders and designers of it wanted to make it a place where kids can be as comfortable as possible during an uncomfortable time.

In the past, children may have been taken to police stations for interviews. They may then have to go to a hospital for an exam.

The child may go to different locations to receive therapy. Now, all of those services are under one roof.

Neshek toured the building on Wednesday with a Regional News reporter.

Neshek said there is a waiting room, equipped with a television, a Wii, books and board games. When children are being interviewed, parents or guardians can talk to social workers about treatment. When children are in the room, volunteers play with them, read them books and make them feel comfortable.

Deputy Dan Nelson said when children go to a police station they often feel as if they did something wrong.

Now, Hocking will interview the children in one of two rooms. Both rooms have cameras and the police watch the interviews in a separate observation room.

The interviews are recorded and police can take notes. Nelson, who was named Walworth County Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year for 2012, said when he takes notes children may freeze up, thinking they said something wrong.

“It’s not as intimidating as a police department,” Assistant District Attorney Haley Rea said.

Rea said prosecutors don’t typically watch the interviews as they occur. However, the Tree House does provide that option, and prosecutors could do so discretely.

Hocking can also leave the interview room and talk to the police to see if there are any additional questions she needs to ask.

Medical exams can also be provided at the Tree House. The examination room doesn’t look like a typical hospital room.

Saskia Lodder, the sexual assault nurse coordinator for Aurora Lakeland Medical Center, said this is done to make the victims more comfortable.

There is a large television in the room, which Lodder said the victim can watch during the exam. She also said there is a shower in the restroom attached to the examination room.

The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is also renting several rooms at the Tree House. These rooms are used for physicians and therapists.

Neshek said if a child’s family can’t pay for therapy, they won’t be turned away. There is also a playground in the Tree House’s backyard. For more information on the WCAC visit www.wcac4kids.org.