The Children’s Advocacy Center of Pine Bluff held the first of what is planned to be an annual open house Thursday afternoon to recognize the agencies and individuals that work with the center in dealing with child sexual abuse.
“We want to give people a chance to see what we do, and what services we offer, and at the same time, thank our partner agencies for helping us,” said Christa Menotti, executive director of CAC.
She identified those partner agencies as law enforcement, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, therapists and advocates for children.
“Some of those people have been here before but others have not so we wanted to show them the facility,” Menotti said.
Among those on hand was Max Snowden, the executive director of the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence, the agency that provides funding for CAC and other agencies around the state that deal with child abuse and child sexual abuse.
Like other centers funded by the commission, CAC offers a child-friendly area where interviews can be conducted and recorded, and a safe environment, which Snowden said was important after a traumatic event such as rape or sexual abuse.
“Interviews used to be done in the back seat of a police car, or on the front porch of a house with the offender still there,” he said. “This not only provides a safe place but the interviews are done by professionals who know how to deal with children.”
He said there are currently 13 centers throughout the state, with the newest one in Clark County.
“We want to be sure that when a center is established, the community is going to support it on a long-term basis and that means local involvement on a board and local fundraising,” Snowden said. “We don’t want to throw a bunch of money into something that is not going to survive.”
Tonia Richmond, vice president of the CAC Board of Directors, said she believes the center “does not get enough recognition from the community.
“The word needs to get out about the services that are offered and how important they are,” Richmond said.
Among those services are medical support and examinations for child victims, crisis intervention for victims and non-offending family members, case follow-up and tracking, criminal justice advocacy and help in obtaining reparations from the Arkansas Crime Victims Compensation Program.
Rod Shelby, the chief of staff for Sixth Division (Juvenile Division) Circuit Judge Earnest Brown Jr., was on hand representing his boss.
“Anything our court can do to support the work they do here, we are going to do,” Shelby said.
Others attending the open house were Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and assistant Evelyn Horton and Deputy Prosecutor Karres Manning, who is the prosecutor on rape and sexual abuse cases in the Eleventh Judicial District-West, which includes Jefferson and Lincoln counties.