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Kodiak opens new facility to help abused children

Posted: February 18, 2013 - 1:02am
Joanna McFarlin holds up anatomically correct dolls the interviewer uses to help kids talk about possible abuse, at the Kodiak Child Advocacy Center open house on Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Nicole Klauss/Kodiak Daily Mirror)  Nicole Klauss
Nicole Klauss
Joanna McFarlin holds up anatomically correct dolls the interviewer uses to help kids talk about possible abuse, at the Kodiak Child Advocacy Center open house on Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Nicole Klauss/Kodiak Daily Mirror)

KODIAK — A new facility in Kodiak is working to make abuse investigations less traumatic for children and their families.

The Kodiak Child Advocacy Center held an open house on Monday to show Kodiak what the process is like from a child’s point of view.

Before the center opened in August, suspected abuse victims were often interviewed multiple times at different locations, and some were even flown to Anchorage for exams.

“It used to be that if there was an allegation of maltreatment, the child was toted around,” center manager Joanna McFarlin said. “They were often interviewed in places that were scary, often the place where they were abused, or in cars or at the hospital and police department, so it was pretty intimidating for kids.”

The system was ineffective, and information was often lost as kids told their story again and again.

“It was discovered that the system put in place to help kids was re-traumatizing them,” McFarlin said. “Not one agency was capable of providing the services needed for the child and family and the separate agencies weren’t communicating or working together. This is what the Child Advocacy Center can do, we meet together and coordinate the case and service provision that best meets the need of the child while at the same time collecting the best evidence to support their case and keep the child safe.”

The first step comes as police or the Alaska Office of Children’s Services refer parents and children to the center.

Children who are brought in for interviews are given a tour of the building and are introduced to the staff on hand.

In the interview room, the child meets a forensic interviewer who asks questions, and has the child do a drawing activity about the body. Anatomically correct dolls are on hand so kids can point at body parts to show the interviewer what happened.

Milton Bohac, a retired Kodiak Police Department detective, is the center’s trained interviewer. McFarlin said having Bohac is a plus because he knows how law enforcement works in Kodiak.

Typically a law enforcement officer, medical provider and advocate watch the interview in another room as it is taking place. All interviews with children are recorded and kept on file.

Parents are not allowed in the room during the interview and do not see it, but the advocate meets with them afterward to tell them what happened.

After the interview, the team determines if a medical exam is needed. If it’s needed, it can be conducted on site so evidence can be gathered immediately.

The center also links families of affected children to counseling services, and accompanies them to court when needed in order to make the whole experience easier for the families and less traumatizing for the children.

“We link them to services, as well as all the way to prosecution, if needed,” McFarlin said. “We help them with whatever court activities are happening.”

This is the first time a center like this has existed in Kodiak, and the center shares the use of facilities with the Kodiak Area Native Association for adult cases.

“We’ve been pretty busy,” said Elsa DeHart, a nurse who conducts exams when warranted, for both adults and children. “It’s nice to do the interviews here.”

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