By BRENNA GRITEMAN
So far this year, the Center for Safe and Healthy Children has handled about three dozen more cases of child abuse than in all of 2018.
Every single report of child abuse made with children’s services or law enforcement in Hancock County — primarily sexual abuse, but also physical abuse and neglect — is handled through this agency. The center received 116 case service referrals in 2018, and has so far received 151 referrals for 2019. About 75% of those cases make it to a forensic interview; 81 total interviews were conducted in 2018, with 117 having been conducted so far in 2019.
Now for some good news: The Center for Safe and Healthy Children completed its move to a new space, a renovated home 2,000 square feet larger than its previous building, last month. The space is equipped with new, state-of-the-art video equipment, and conference and interview rooms designed to appeal to child and family comfort.
The center will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday at its new location, 201 Merriweather Drive. Open houses will be held from 9-11 a.m. Monday and 5-7 p.m. Oct. 7.
Ryan Fausnaugh, executive director, explains the nonprofit agency exists to serve families affected by child abuse in a comfortable, one-stop setting. The child is interviewed here by a member of law enforcement or a case worker from Job and Family Services, and is set up with a mental health counselor before leaving their appointment. A doctor from Toledo visits once a month to provide medical care.
The center serves individuals up to age 18, and some adults with developmental disabilities.
Fausnaugh says the goal of a child advocacy center such as this is to reduce the trauma to children already impacted by abuse. By building a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement, children’s services case workers, the prosecutor’s office, medical and mental health providers, and victim advocates all in one place, the child is not shuttled from one appointment to another and forced to relive their traumatic experience. It also creates a system of care that is significantly simpler for the parents or guardians to navigate.
“It’s taking one family, getting every imaginable support around that family, and following up,” Fausnaugh says.
In addition, the child advocacy center keeps minors from giving testimony inside a police station.
“Imagine being a child who’s just been abused and you’re walking into a police station, walking through metal detectors,” Fausnaugh says.
While the child is being interviewed, a member of the team that is not doing the interviewing — either from law enforcement or children’s services — can watch the interview live from a room upstairs. A victim advocate from CASA may also be present. New high-definition cameras and microphones have been installed in the room, and the interview can easily be recorded and transmitted to a computer file.
Once a month, all members of the multidisciplinary team meet to review each case, asking questions like “How is the family responding?” and “Are the interviews done?”
“That way if the family asks me what’s going on with their case, I know,” Fausnaugh says.
Fausnaugh suggests this year’s increase in case referrals is likely related to the rise in the use of drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. These drugs may cause parents to become neglectful or violent, and may also lead to increased traffic in the home by people who are not well known or trusted. He speculates that increased awareness of what counts as sexual abuse and assault, based on the Me Too Movement and community activism efforts, may have also led to more cases having been filed.
While many cases don’t make it to court, mainly due to a lack of evidence, Fausnaugh says determining a child’s path to healing and getting a strong support system in place is the priority.
His measure of success is simply: “If they were better today than they were yesterday.”