By Kendall McGee | October 27, 2020 at 6:56 PM EDT – Updated October 27 at 7:37 PM
WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) – Child victims of abuse in rural areas of Southeastern North Carolina now have a dedicated center to help them seek justice and heal.
While New Hanover County and Brunswick County have child advocacy centers to serve victims, families in Bladen and Columbus County were forced to travel out of town to get those same services until recently. Carolyn’s Kaleidoscope Child Advocacy Center moved into its building in Whiteville this month to help families in Bladen and Columbus counties.
When a child enters Carolyn’s Kaleidoscope, families have access to forensic interviews, therapy and advocates to help them through the court system.
The child only has to tell the story of their abuse once to one specially trained interviewer. Members with DSS, law enforcement and the district attorney’s office are able to listen in on the forensic interview from the facility’s observation room and get the information they need for their investigations.
The center has a softer, homier feel, and a more kid-friendly approach. Interviews happen in a room with colorful furniture and coloring books that’s designed to be less traumatizing than taking child victims to a sheriff’s office or a police department to give statements.
Since Carolyn’s Kaleidoscope was awarded a grant from the governor’s crime commission to begin last fall, they’ve been traveling around to provide services. Despite working at different sites over the past year, they’ve already helped more than 100 children.
The center’s director, Jasmine Patrick, says its been a long road to where they are now, but its all been worth it to serve the community.
“When you work in this field you know that you’re able to make a difference and that is what ultimately we want to do, is to make a difference for a child. That difference can mean a whole array of things—by allowing them to have a voice,” said director Jasmine Patrick. “That forensic interview room gives them that voice to where they can say what happened to them and somebody listens.”
Patrick describes the need for these services in the region as “extreme.”
Just this week, the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office announced multiple abuse arrests: a father arrested for abusing a 13-day-old baby and another case where an adult was charged for beating a 3-year-old.
“We do see cases like that every day,” said Patrick. “I think a lot of people from the outside looking in can’t see the hard work that goes into making sure an arrest can be done.”
Before the center was up and running, many victims were referred to child advocacy centers in Fayetteville, Wilmington or even Myrtle Beach. Sometimes, cases would be delayed up to six weeks while families waited to get in those facilities.
The assistant district attorney says Carolyn’s Kaleidoscope has been fundamental in changing how quickly investigators are able to get justice for victims.
“It’s been a godsend. It’s something that really makes a difference in the community. For an example, yesterday at the courthouse we had a situation that arose, learned some information about a child and because we have a facility here within 24 hours we were able to have that child seen,” said Allan Adams, Columbus County Assistant District Attorney. “We make sure that we’re able to gather information for the children as soon as possible, and have fewer people re-traumatizing children by giving multiple statements on multiple occasions.”
Its all in hopes of making sure the perpetrators are taken off the streets and no child ever has to go through the same ordeal.
“We’re just trying to do good things to make the community a little bit safer and there’s a lot of things that go unseen and unheard and we’re trying to bring it to light because people need to know,” said Patrick.
Leaders at the child advocacy center are also in the process of finding a medical provider to conduct child medical exams down the road in house as well. If you’re interested in helping the center grow or accessing its services, you can visit their website here.
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