Child victims of sexual abuse now have a place they can get help and assist law enforcement with the investigation.

Just over six months after sheriff’s, commonwealth’s attorneys and directors of social services from Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan County announced plans for it the doors of a Care Center are open in Richlands.  The former parsonage of the United Methodist Church will house the program which is directed by April Morefield.

The program received a $200,000 grant from the Elgin foundation and Adela Thompson, daughter of Elgin Founder B. Ray Thompson and its executive director Kim Rogers were on hand for the program.  Along with those funds and the property from the Methodist Church the project will receive assistance from Cumberland Mountain Community Services, Clinch Valley Health and Carilion.

Cumberland will provide onsite counseling and Clinch Valley and Carilion will assist in training nurses for the program.   The specially trained nurses and forensic interviewers will mean children no longer have to be taken out of the area to have access to care and assist with the investigation of their case.

 “The CARE Center was not created by one person alone, but by many people, and those people are here today. Each of you had a hand in bringing CARE Center to fruition.  I am so proud to work with you and see your commitment to your community. Children need a voice, and we are that voice,’ Morefield said.

Tazewell County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Dennis said the area has seen an increase in child sex crimes and the center will make it much easier for law enforcement to investigate those cases. Dennis said prior to the opening of the Care Center the children were taken to Roanoke, Big Stone Gap or out of state.

He was joined at the ceremony by Gerald Arrington, Commonwealth’s Attorney from Buchanan County and Zac Stoots, who holds the office in Russell County.     Morefield outlined the purpose of the center and its goals.

“CARE Center is open to children of Tazewell, Russell, and Buchanan counties who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse. It is a neutral child friendly location where a child can come tell their story of victimization to a trained forensic interviewer while law enforcement, prosecution, and child protective services observe the interview in another room.

The process is neutral and fact finding and assists law enforcement and prosecution in their efforts to convict the perpetrator.  By bringing the child to the CARE Center it eliminates the need for the child to tell their story to multiple agencies. Our goal is to not further traumatize children in the pursuit of prosecution. We also provide a family advocate role to the family. We assess the family’s needs, make referrals based upon those needs, and we act as a liaison between the family and the judicial system. We are strong for families in their time of weakness.

She echoed the statements of the prosecutors about the help the center provides law enforcement and the likelihood of childhood sexual abuse victims turning to a life of crime but said the center also offers hope and healing.

“I can stand up here and tell you about the statistics of child abuse, and how children who suffer abuse are nine times more likely to engage in criminal activity later in life. But instead I would like to tell you a story of hope.  Because if all we hear are the grim statistics all day long, we begin to lose hope. And the CARE Center is all about hope for healing.

A mother of three children came to the center last month. This was a middle-class family. She began seeing signs of aggression in her ten-year-old son. We interviewed him first. The interview began with rapport building. The interviewer asked the child about his hobbies and about school. He told the interviewer about all of the video games he likes to play, and how much he loves sports. When it became time for the forensic interviewer begin discussing the reason why he was here that day, she said, “Do you know why you are here today?” The child said, “Yes, I am here to talk about my father raping me.” At that moment I was watching this interview in the observation room and I began to cry. Because this child is almost the age of my son, and he reminded me so much of my son especially when he spoke of video games and sports. I cried for the loss of that child’s innocence.  No one, especially no child, ever deserves to be abused, but to be raped by a parent is simply unthinkable. When his interview was over the oldest child, a girl who is a junior in high school asked to be interviewed. When she entered the room she immediately began to cry. She said, “I can’t say out loud what my father has done to me but I will write it down for you.” She said, “I am a junior in high school and I don’t need this. I just want to forget it and move on.” She continued to write that her father had raped her since she was eight years old. She had never told anyone.

That day was the turning point for that family. Because they came to the center and disclosed what had been happened to them, soon after the investigator was able apprehend the perpatrator. He is now in jail and facing many charges.

We are proud of the children that come to the CARE Center. Proud of their courage to speak with unthinkable, proud of their ability to come forward after enduring years of abuse and horrific acts of crime. Today lets take home one message, the protection of children is an adult responsibility. The CARE Center is here for all the children that fall prey to all the malicious, calculated, sex offenders secretly hiding and living amongst us. We are their voice so they no longer suffer in silence. At the CARE Center, no voice is too small to be heard!



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