Prescott House provides help to area child victims
by James Phillips
Jul 17, 2011 | 2181 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Prescott House Child Advocacy Center, located in Birmingham, serves as a safe environment for young victims in Walker County.  Photo by: James Phillips
The Prescott House Child Advocacy Center, located in Birmingham, serves as a safe environment for young victims in Walker County. Photo by: James Phillips
slideshow
BIRMINGHAM — When children have been abused, neglected or have witnessed a violent crime, there is a special place designed just for them.

Prescott House Child Advocacy Center, located in Birmingham, provides a safe, child-friendly environment for child victims to come talk about what may have happened to them. When investigators from Walker Count law enforcement agencies or the Walker County Department of Human Resources receive a report of abuse or neglect, they contact Prescott House for a forensic (fact-finding) interview of the child victim.

“Most people in our area have probably never even heard of Prescott House,” said John Rowe, an investigator with the Walker County District Attorney’s Office. “Unless you’ve needed them, you probably don’t know about them, but they do a great work for children in Walker County.”

Rowe, who handles most child abuse cases for the DA’s Office, said Prescott House is currently the only child advocacy center providing services to Walker County. He said child victims are taken to Prescott House by their caregivers for the forensic interview. Investigators from law enforcement and DHR also observe the interviews via closed-circuit television in a separate room from where the interview is being conducted. The interview is conducted by a professional trained in forensic interviewing and child development. The interview is a factual, non-leading interview of the child victim and is recorded on DVD to maintain its integrity.

Mary Murphy, executive director of Prescott House, said the group has provided services to Walker County for almost seven years, but those services have picked up in recent years. She said Prescott House is on pace to have around 100 cases from Walker County this year.

“We are averaging between six to eight cases per month right now from Walker County,” she said. “All our services are provided free of charge for child victims and their families.”

The cost to Prescott House for each interview is approximately $150, Murphy said.

“The service that Prescott House provides for our county is immeasurable,” Walker County Sheriff John Mark Tirey said. “The cost of the interviews might can be valued, but the help they provide to child victims in Walker County has a value that can’t be determined. We are blessed to have a group like this working with us.”

The center’s annual budget is $225,000 per year with that funding coming from local foundations and grants, state and federal grants, private donations and fundraisers. Prescott House is holding its annual charity golf tournament at Highland Park Golf Club on Monday, July 25. Murphy said anyone interested in playing in the tournament or helping sponsor it should contact her at 205-930-3622 or via email at mary@prescotthouse.org.

Interviews captured on DVD are not used in lieu of the child’s testimony in court in most cases, but the interviews can be a key to prosecution, Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair said.

“The number of child victims in our county can be staggering,” Adair said. “Having Prescott House meeting the needs of those victims is a great help to law enforcement in our area.”

Murphy added that because of the child-focused setting at Prescott House, child victims experience less anxiety, fewer interviews, increased support and more appropriate and timely referrals for needed services. She said investigators can focus on other aspects of their investigation because they know the needs of the child victims and their families are being taken care of by Prescott House.

Adair said having a child advocacy center located in Walker County is at the top of the needs list for local law enforcement.

“One of my main goals I talked about during my campaign was getting a center started here in Walker County,” he said. “We have had meetings with some community leaders and business professionals about establishing one here. Prescott House does a tremendous job for us, and I’m thankful for everything they do. Our children need the benefits of having a place like Prescott House right here in their own back yard.”

Murphy said Prescott House has met with law enforcement officials in Walker County concerning the establishment of a child advocacy center in the county.

“We will be happy to do anything we can to help that process,” she said.