Hancock County effort to create child advocacy center needs votes for grant money

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. - There is an effort underway in Hancock County to create a place where abused children can open up about their experiences without being retraumatized. The team behind the initiative now needs the public's support to secure a grant for a child advocacy center.

Currently, children involved in abuse or neglect cases in Hancock County must go to law enforcement headquarters for interviews. Sometimes, they are required to speak to multiple people about the most painful parts of their lives.

"These are very difficult interviews to begin with," said Jeff Rasche, Greenfield Police Chief. "Trying to keep a child’s attention, getting them to be comfortable with a stranger adult talking to them."

At the Greenfield police station, there is a corner area reserved for victim interviews. However, children are not always comfortable in a law enforcement environment.

"We have to put ourselves in a position to understand what a child has been through," Rasche said.

In the past year, the Greenfield Police Department has investigated 67 cases of crimes against children. Rasche said they want to improve the process used to interview these child victims.

The Greenfield Police Department, Hancock County Sheriff's Department and the Hancock County Prosecutor's Office have teamed up to establish a location where kids can be interviewed while feeling safe.

"Those days are over where you sit down in interview room in sterile environment where the child is going to be scared to death," Rasche said. "So hopefully it will break down some barriers."

Members of the Hancock County team have visited the child advocacy center in Madison County to get a better idea of how the approach works.

"It is the place where we can do one interview that serves all the investigative needs for the agencies around the county who are going to investigate," said Denise Valdez, director of Kids Talk in Madison County.

The building feels more like a home, which includes a living room and a playroom.  Detectives and other officials enter the building through a specific door to minimize children's interaction with authorities. An interview room is equipped with cameras and a microphone. The key people in child welfare investigations are able to watch the interview from a separate conference room. This eliminates the need for the child to be interviewed over and over again by different agencies.

Rasche says the goal is to create a similar experience in Hancock County. The project is in the running for a $25,000 grant through an online voting contest. The top 40 projects will receive funding. As of Monday afternoon, the Hancock County Child Advocacy Center is at number 48.

"This means so much to our community," Rasche said. "The grant is going to have to come through to get this off the ground."

To vote for the project, click here.  Search for Indiana in the state tab. Voting closes on Friday.

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