The focus of the child advocacy center would be on preventing child abuse, and reducing the trauma suffered by victims of child abuse, by using specialized interview techniques and providing therapy.
“Among other things, what a CAC does is you have children that are sexually abused and you have allegations, well, there are people who are specially trained to conduct these kind of interviews with children,” said Judge Nathan Allred of the county juvenile court. “It’s a lot better to have that than if you have a 4- or 5-year-old that you’re putting on the witness stand. It’s a lot better setting, and less threatening, if they can go somewhere and sit down, and you can have one of those kinds of interviews. You can video tape that, or do it over closed circuit television, and it’s just a better way to prosecute those kinds of cases and find out what’s really going on.”
Although this could enable prosecutors to better prosecute offenders, that’s not the main focus of the center.
“I don’t think this needs to be an arm of the prosecution,” said District Attorney Bill Adair. “This is something that is for children.”
The center is modeled after others in the area that are already in operation. Currently the county sends children to Bessemer for questioning and counseling.
“I know, in working with other advocacy centers, there’s been a focus, not on prosecution of the offender, but really the focus is on the child and helping that child,” Bailey Brigham-Gladden, assistant district attorney, said. “Having something close will help the children of Walker County so they don’t have to drive an hour. We’re not using resources in Bessemer and Birmingham, they can go somewhere locally. A lot of times these offenses happen within the family or we have low income families who don’t have the resources that they need to get there.”
One of the main ways the center helps children is by lessening the number of times a child has to relive traumatic events.
“In terms of having a better interview, it also allows the child to only have to tell that story a limited number of times,” Brigham-Gladden, said. “Having to go through the trauma of talking about sexual abuse and physical abuse, in some cases, can be very traumatic for children and having that on a tape can really help in the overall treatment of that child.”
The project is a collaborative effort between the juvenile court, the Walker County District Attorney’s office and the Children’s Policy Council. These groups have seen a need for this type of program for a number of years.
“The big question is: Why don’t we already have one?” Allred said. “Because we’ve got the kind of resources that you need and what we’ve had to do in the past is send our victims out to other areas and that’s something that I know Bill [Adair] is upset with and I am too. We’d just be better served if we had something local.”
“That’s not the only thing a children’s center group can do but that’s kind of our primary focus to get started,” Allred said. “We’ll be able to add services as we go along--things like victim’s counseling, family counseling and we could even, on down the road, do workshops for families to spot signs of abuse and do some preventative-type things to cut down on the incidences we have here in Walker County.”
“We’ve got to have it,” Adair said. “I think it’s one of the top things missing in this county.”
Anyone interested in contributing to the creation of this center or being on the founding board should contact Bailey Brigham-Gladden or Bill Adair at the district attorney’s office at 384-7272 or Judge Nathan Allred at 384-7260.