Interviewer hired for Child Advocacy Ctr.

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

The announcement that Stephanie Black has taken the position of forensic interviewer for the Region 15 Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was met with excitement at the Youth Worker’s Café held Tuesday, August 4 at the Department of Children’s Services in Versailles.

Black comes with high credentials, holding bachelor and master degrees from Indiana University as well as completing the Finding Words program, a technique that minimizes the trauma to a child when they are interviewed in a child abuse case.

“I’m looking forward to working with the center,” Black told The Versailles Republican. She is a graduate of Jac-Cen-Del High School and came highly recommended from her position at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis.

“We’re fortunate to have her,” Prosecutor Ric Hertel told those gathered at the meeting on Tuesday that was sponsored by the Ripley County Council Against Substance Abuse. He said with child cases, very few have absolute evidence such as DNA and mostly rely on the child’s testimony. “The first interview is critical to the case,” he explained. Black’s work is crucial to the well-being of child victims. She began her duties with the center on Monday of this week.

The Region 15 Child Advocacy Center located in Dillsboro, is designed to coordinate investigations of child abuse by bringing the needed professionals together to help families in a child-friendly atmosphere.

Sarah Brichto, executive director of the CAC, came in on the ground floor of the facility, “before there was even a ground floor” Hertel noted. She has traveled the country to research these types of centers. She showed the floor plans outlining the structure of the interview process, the high tech equipment, and the overall services the center will provide.

Brichto noted that the new center is the first regional center in the state of Indiana. She is thankful for grants such as the $10,000 from the Ripley County Community Foundation for the start-up of the center. Not only does it offer the ultimate care for the victim and non-offending family members, but it is proven to be about $1,000 less expensive per case for taxpayers. It’s a win-win situation, with the first priority being the child, according to the prosecutor.

Nearly 40 people gathered at the Tuesday luncheon for one common goal: to promote the welfare of children. They come from a variety of backgrounds, some teachers, school and church counselors, Court Appointed Self Advocates (CASA’s), Department of Children’s Services employees, business leaders in the community and more. Lunch was provided by the Indiana Youth Institute, an organization devoted to positive youth development.

With statistics such as: one out of four girls and one out of six boys being the victims of abuse; 67% of victims of sexual assault are juveniles; 34% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 12 and one out of every seven victims of sexual assault is under the age of six, the urgency for the CAC was evident.

Other facts presented include that cases of sexual abuse without a CAC involved have a much less chance of a conviction.

Charges filed:
• 76% when handled by a CAC
• 39% when none was involved
Charges filed when victim was 4-6 years old:
• 71% when handled by a CAC
• 25% when none was involved
Charges filed when the victim was 12 years and older:
• 93% when handled by a CAC
• 40% when none was involved
Guilty plea or verdict:
• 56% when handled by a CAC
• 24% when none was involved

More startling facts presented were in Ripley County (2008 DCS Report) 549 reports of abuse or neglect were taken involving 806 children.

Traci Eggleston, director of Department of Children’s Services for Ripley and Decatur counties spoke to the importance of the CAC. She noted from her experience it is imperative to get child victims quickly to a safe environment and only have one interview.

Black described the center as being one where “everything is about the child.” She explained the interview process as a balance of science and art, understanding the dynamics involved. It’s a complicated process, but one that can be narrowed down now thanks to the new center. Eggleston agreed this is the best scenario and looks forward to the new option in these types of cases.

Hertel noted that the bottom line is being able to protect the child. “While we want to punish the criminal, it’s mostly that we want to protect the child,” he told the crowd. He explained how a plea agreement is sometimes made to keep a child from being put through the rigors of testifying. He said while some people don’t agree with it, and he certainly would like the perpetrator to get the maximum sentence, “sometimes it’s more about the mental and emotional well-being of a child.”

The Region 15 Children’s Advocacy Center serves the counties of Ripley, Dearborn, Decatur, Jefferson, Ohio and Switzerland counties. The mission of the center is clear: “To give children a sense of normalcy and a non-traumatizing experience while participating in the investigative process by coordinating the essential agencies to provide forensic interviews and comprehensive services in a child-friendly environment.” The center has the goal of treating the children with dignity and respect, something they’ve been denied by the offending perpetrator.

You can and are obligated to report abuse or suspected abuse or neglect by calling 1-800-800-5556.

Pictured from left were presenters at the Youth Worker's Cafe held Tuesday, August 4 at the Department of Children Services in Versailles: Traci Eggleston, director of DCS, Sarah Brichto, director of Region 15 Child Advocacy Center, Stephanie Black, newly hired forensic interviewer for the center, and Ripley County Prosecutor Ric Hertel. Brichto and Black hold the floor plans showing how the new center, located in Dillsboro, is situated.