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SAFE center aims to curb impacts on child victims

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Being hauled all over town and grilled by strangers can be a grueling experience for a child crime victim, adding to his or her trauma.

The new Southeast Alaska Family Evaluations Child Advocacy Center attempts to lessen the emotional pain. The center, SAFE for short, officially opened its doors last week at 2225 Jordan Creek Ave.

"We expect to serve age 2 to 16 or 17, depending on the case and the specific circumstances," said Rosemary Hagevig, executive director of Catholic Community Service.

A forensic interviewer, Carolyn Porter, came on board four months ago and has been working since the first week of January at the Juneau Police Department, Hagevig said. Porter has been averaging 15 child victim interviews a month.

The center provides "a neutral setting for kids who are alleged victims of abuse or neglect," Porter said. "We can bring them here to a child-friendly setting, do one video interview that all the agencies can use, make recommendations for parents it's kind of one-stop shopping."

Porter, working in law enforcement and at a child protection center in Amarillo, Texas, has more than 1,000 interviews under her belt.

"It's very important sometimes to determine that nothing has happened to a child," she said. "If we can get through these cases quicker and minimize the impact, we will come out with stronger kids."

The center is funded by a grant secured through U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Hagevig. The $300,000 grant funded startup costs such as video equipment and will ensure its first 15 months of operation.

The center will work in cooperation with a variety of local agencies, Hagevig said.

Juneau Youth Services, Catholic Community Service, AWARE, the Division of Family and Youth Services, Bartlett Regional Hospital, SEARHC, the state Division of Juvenile Justice, the police department and state troopers are all involved, she said. Local pediatricians and emergency room physicians also will be linked to the center.

"This is a huge collaborative effort in Juneau, a significant effort. I think Juneau can be proud that so many agencies have come together to make this work," she said.

The Child Advocacy Center is part of a national movement to ensure children and families who experience child physical or sexual abuse are less impacted by the system that deals with them after a suspected incident is reported. Anchorage and Wasilla have centers. Other centers are planned for Nome and Fairbanks.

Most of the referrals to Juneau's center originate with DFYS or law enforcement agencies, Hagevig said. The center initially will accept referrals only from Juneau, but eventually will serve the northeast portion of Southeast Alaska.

The facility includes a foyer equipped with toys, a medical exam room, and an interview room with built-in mikes and cameras. DFYS case workers or district attorneys in another room can watch the video feed and supply the interviewer with questions they would like answered. A permanent film of the interview is made for official reference.

"The interviewer establishes a good relationship and no one else comes into the room," Hagevig said. "You don't have to hustle around town and sit in the waiting room."

The Child Advocacy Center can be reached at 790-4342.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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