A police station or a hospital can be a scary place for a child. They are filled with strange people carrying guns, the strange smells of disinfectant and strange sounds of monitors and security locks.


A police station or a hospital can be a scary place for a child. They are filled with strange people carrying guns, the strange smells of disinfectant and strange sounds of monitors and security locks.
Before 2008, children who were victims of physical and sexual abuse were taken to these places to tell their intimate stories of violation.
“Prior to Heart to Heart (Child Advocacy Center), we would set children up in front of a tripod and ask children about the sexual abuse,” said Capt. Mike Terry of the McPherson Police Department. “Then we would load them up and take them to the hospital where they would be asked the same questions. If the child needed counseling, they would go to a mental health counselor who would set them down and ask them the same questions. They were revictimized several times before they got to court.”

A safe place
Some concerned McPherson residents rallied and with the help of Heart to Heart Child Advocacy Center in Newton, developed a local branch of the child advocacy center.
The main focus of the advocacy center is to give children a safe, comfortable, family-like environment in which to be interviewed by trained interviewers about the abuse they have suffered.
When the children walk into the center, which is newly located in the municipal building, they are greeted by dozens of stuffed animals. They are on the couch, on shelves and in the bookcases.
The office at first glance looks more like a living room than an office.
“It lets us put the child in a comfortable place so they can tell us their story,” Terry said. “They can tell us what happened and meet a child advocate. As a team, we can put the child at ease so we can get information.”
There also is an interview room with cushy bench seats and chairs sized for children, in which interviews can be conducted and taped. The room next to the interview room contains electronics for recording the interviews and a big screen TV that is used by a team to watch the interview in progress.
That team is comprised of social services workers, mental health providers, law enforcement and a family advocate.

Better
prosecution
Having a team working on the case means children are less likely to fall through the cracks, said David Page, county attorney and Heart to Heart board member.
Page requires all cases of child abuse in the county to processed through Heart to Heart, not only because it is better for the child, but because it aids in prosecution.
He described the child advocacy center as vital to the prosecution of child abuse cases.
“With no child advocacy center, it would be difficult to effectively prosecute crimes against children in McPherson County,” Page said.
If a child is interviewed once and it is videotaped, then a defense attorney cannot argue the child changed his or her story. The tape also can be admitted as evidence during a trail.

Finding Words
The members of the multidisciplinary team are trained in forensics interviewing technique called Finding Words. This technique helps interviewers learn how to approach children with kindness and understanding and not lead children in their questioning.
All McPherson police detectives are trained in the forensics interviewing, as are members of the McPherson County Sheriff’s Office.
“It gives us a different perspective,” Terry said. “We are trained as police officers to deal with interviews and interrogating adults and getting confessions. Nobody takes the time to train us on how to deal with children and how to satisfy their needs so they can open up to us.”
Because other members of the team remotely watch the interview process, they can assist the interviewer with additional questions.

Reports
increase
The number of children interviewed at the center has increased every year since it opened, said Marlene Beeson, Heart to Heart director.
Beeson said she thinks the increase in awareness the center has brought to the community has resulted in an increase in cases.
“People see a way to work with it,” she said. “Education helps people learn that something can be done with this.”