Advocacy center incorporates

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The way Dallas County deals with child abuse is about to change.

Susan Keith, community justice coordinator, filed articles of incorporation for the Central Alabama Regional Child Advocacy Center on Tuesday. The nonprofit agency, which is expected to begin its services in the spring, will work with law enforcement agencies, departments of human resources, the Fourth Judicial Circuit district attorney’s office as well as victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and their families.

Paperwork for incorporating the agency was filed with Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones. The next step lies with Alabama’s secretary of state, who is expected to receive the paperwork shortly.

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Keith noted that once the agency’s creation is finalized, it could begin to access funding streams. However, it can’t start the process until it’s gained its tax-exempt status.

Ideas for the center, though, are already in the works.

The center will change methods currently used to discover and prosecute abusers. Currently, many abused children tell teachers or a friend about their abuse. Children sometimes make these revelations after seeing a school presentation about abuse.

After telling their story once, children must then enter a series of interviews and more disclosures where they tell their story again and again.

The child advocacy center will change that. Instead of telling their story multiple times, children will tell it to an interviewer with the center. That interviewer will be a liaison with the district attorney’s office, law enforcement agencies and departments of human resources. Representatives from the various offices can be present for the interview and have it recorded.

Keith added that the longer cases stay in the court system, the less likely a conviction will occur.

Keith hasn’t yet singled out any one location for the center, but instead said she was hoping someone would donate space to house the agency. &uot;This is not a good time to be looking for money,&uot; Keith said. &uot;But if we’ve got to start bare bones, we’ll do it.&uot;

The failure of Gov. Bob Riley’s tax initiative could affect the center’s funding. Keith said child advocacy centers are a line item in the state budget, but pointed out that funds are being cut. Funding is expected, but Keith doesn’t know when it will come through.

Keith said the entire community is needed to foster child abuse awareness. She plans on doing that through the media, public service announcements and educational components such as speakers to local civic clubs.