Southwest Crisis Center receives grant to develop a Child Advocacy Center

WORTHINGTON - The Southwest Crisis Center made a big announcement Monday night during their annual meeting in Worthington. According to SWCC Executive Director Sara Wahl, the center has received funding to develop a Child Advocacy Center - something that doesn't exist in southwest Minnesota.

According to Wahl, there is a huge gap in services for children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse and neglect. Currently, law enforcement in the area has to bring children to a CAC in South Dakota for forensic interviews, which can result in the case being unnecessarily drawn out . This causes a hardship to law enforcement, child services and the courts, and - most importantly - to the children and families involved.

With support from local courts, law enforcement, child protective services and local mental health services, the SWCC applied for and received a $110,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Program. The Minnesota Children's Alliance is helping the group identify a process to ensure the best outcomes in building a  task force and developing a CAC.

"The goal is to put ourselves out of business," Wahl said Monday night.

The proposed service area for the CAC includes a 6-county region in southwest Minnesota. The SWCC anticipates services primarily in Nobles County the first year and gradual expansion to five more counties. The work plan starts with hiring a consultant to lead a task force n developing community engagement and financial sustainability. The grant funds will be used for start-up funding.

An exact location for the CAC has not yet been made, but a Worthington site will be turned into an incubator for forensic interviews until a permanent location can be determined.

Minnesota Fifth Judicial District Judge Gordon Moore said the Nobles County court system is an enthusiastic supporter for the SWCC's funding grant.

"In Nobles County we have seen over the past years an increase in child protection cases and criminal sexual conduct cases involving juvenile victims," Moore said. " A local Child Advocacy Center would be a significant benefit to our law enforcement and social services staff, medical providers, and families of victims.  Providing additional local services for children who are suspected of being abused or neglected will assist the courts and justice partners in operating 'through the eyes of the child' so as to achieve child safety, permanency, and well-being.”

A national study shows that child sexual abuse is the most prevalent health problem children face, and that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. In the first six months of 2019, Nobles County Child Protective Services alone has received 162 child protection reports. CPS is seeing a continued increase in the number of assessments and investigations of child abuse, as well as an increase in minor parent referrals - youth under the age of 18 who are also parents.

For more information, contact the Southwest Crisis Center at 507-376-4311.

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