GREENSBURG — The Childrens’ Advocacy Center in Southeast Indiana recently celebrated the opening of their third facility. The 1516 W. Main Street location in Greensburg, formerly the Swine Veterinary Services Building across from Delta Faucet, has been completely remodeled. For local law enforcement personnel, children’s advocates, counselors and the disenfranchised children of the area, it’s a dream come true.
Daily News readers might remember articles detailing the non-profit Children’s Advocacy Center in previous years as they applied for grant funding through the Decatur County Council and Decatur County Commissioners. Both government panels agreed to sponsor CAC through the grant writing process in acquiring funding to open a Children’s Advocacy Center in Greensburg.
In September 2019, the organization hired Shannon Perry, the first director for a forensic interview facility in Indiana. And even though she admits she had to “fall to the ground running” when taking on the new responsibility, she is thankful and excited about the possibilities the Greensburg facility promises.
“This has definitely been a long, arduous process, but now that it’s finished it is going to bless so many local children when their lives have been turned upside-down,” she said.
The recently opened Decatur County CAC is a forensic interview center. Local prosecutors will use it to gain accurate information from a child while attempting to diminish the impact of traumatic events. Facilities such as these provide soothing, non-threatening environments in which interview sessions are recorded and then used in court.
“When a child witnesses something horrible in their life, like a murder or an abusive situation, that is very frightening to them. And when they have to tell a police man in a uniform about it, that can make it so much worse,” explained Perry. “This is often a child’s first opportunity to work with a police officer, and it’s very scary to them.”
The CAC facility offers law officers and counselors a calm, non-threatening environment in which children can tell their side of the stories. Until now, children in Decatur County, as well as those in the outlying surrounding counties, had to travel to Madison or Dillsboro, compounding their trauma.
Perry, who has a background in education and counseling, said that in her short time working with these children she’s learned a lot.
“We are on call 24/7, and when I’ve been on duty and they bring in a child who’s just seen something horrible – well, you can almost see their story in their eyes. It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “So, we’ve made this place seem as much like a home as we could. It’s for the children.”
The Center supplies rooms designed for play, for adult meetings, and for interviews, all decorated in non-frightening ways.
Perry explained the process by which the children are interviewed.
“A child discloses they’ve been witness to things like murder, domestic violence or sexual abuse, and a counselor will call the Department of Child Services and then they call us,” she said. “If the police take the disclosure, then the police call us.”
From that point, counselors for the CAC arrange for the children to be brought to the Center.
“If I had to witness the child walking in every time, I don’t know that I could continue in this job, but getting to see them walk out again, that makes it all worth it,” Perry said.
Last year, in Dearborn, Jefferson and Decatur County, there were 500 forensic interviews taken care of by the CAC; 90 percent of the children knew their abusers.
“When you are carrying a story like that with no one to talk to, when you’re able to share that with someone who is not going to react or judge you – that can help them get rid of that shame,” Perry said. “And if we don’t catch them early, to teach them that it’s not their fault, many of them will carry that forever.”
The CAC also works with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who does any necessary physical examining on site. If the child is the victim of rape or has an STD, the examination takes place at the Center as well.
“We are here to set up resources to take care of the families. If they need clothes, we help them. We have food in stock if they come in hungry, or no shoes,” Perry said. “When they leave here they know where to go, and the help from the people in this community has been amazing. We have been so lucky, because the people in Greensburg are so giving.”
Because the Children’s Advocacy Center is not-for-profit, they gladly accept donations of new various items like new children’s clothing, children’s shoes or financial support.
The Greensburg CAC office can be reached at 812-222-0061 or visiting their website at www.cacsoutheast.org.