Child Advocacy Center holds open house at new location

Matt Masters • Jul 26, 2018 at 3:39 PM

The 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center held an open house for its new facility in Lebanon on Thursday to help promote the healing of abused children and families.

Dozens of people from the community, including law enforcement and government officials, attended to support advancements in the facility and the selfless work that is done on behalf of the victims of child abuse.

“We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary today, and this house is a dream come true,” said Nancy Willis, CAC’s executive director. “We work with children who have been severely physically and sexually abused, and we do the forensic interviews here. Because we have been able to expand to a house like this, we can hire additional staff to work with our kids and our non-offending families to help them start healing from the trauma they are experiencing.”

The new facility is in a large house with everything expected – a couch, kitchen and bathrooms, along with offices and a monitored therapy room. The layout of the facility is comfortable and inviting, something that is intentional, according to Willis.

“Kids come in here and they feel comfortable; parents feel comfortable. We want them to feel comfortable, to feel safe and to know that they’re believed and be able to tell their story one time,” Willis said.

The center’s former location was inside a strip mall, and since the opening of the new location June 4, the center has already conducted 40 interviews. Last year, it conducted 340 interviews and 1,800 in the past 10 years with children who were abused.

The Wilson County Commission voted in December to sell the house to the Child Advocacy Center, which was the former Adult Learning Center site.

Jason Lawson, an assistant district attorney, talked about the role the center plays in to help children and convict their abusers.

“We see people from the Department of Children’s Services, Child Protective Services, the mental health community, the police departments, the district attorney’s office all come together and work together to produce one coordinated investigation that gets to the truth of what has happened in each of these situations. It is a way that protects the integrity of the investigation and is done in a way to help the children to not experience re-traumatization as the process is going on all the way through the court system. It also helps the kids to begin the healing process to deal with some the trauma they have experienced through abuse.

Willis also spoke of the importance of her role in the center and the gratification that comes with helping children in need.

“It’s a really good feeling [to work here] because 90 percent of children who have been sexually abused never tell, so they take it into adulthood. If we have children who are brave enough to tell their story or we find out that something has happened to them, then they can start that healing process, so that they can get the counseling and treatment that they need so that they don’t carry that burden into adulthood,” Willis said.

CeCe Ralston, the CAC’s forensic investigator who is on her second career after she with children for several years, also stressed the importance and level of involvement of the work she and Willis do at the center.

“I wanted to do something meaningful, and I’ll tell you what, honestly, I didn’t really understand the weight of this until after my training that I went to where I learned how to do these interviews. I came back and I began doing these interviews, and I realized how very important this is, because so much hinges on a really good interview,” Ralston said. When a child feels comfortable enough to disclose what’s been happening to them, then we are able to move forward and help that child.

“I think about one night in particular early in my career, where we got a call and asked if we could do a late interview with a couple of girls. Nancy and I did the interviews, staying at the office until 9 o’clock that night, and it was a situation with years of abuse toward these two girls.

“Now, I was heading home, but the DCS worker is still going to go with this family for medical exams, law enforcement – their night’s not over – they’re going to get search and arrest warrants. I remember driving home and thinking, I am so proud to a member of this team, and this is really important and really weighty work that we are doing. And that person – the offender – is going on trial next month, and I am proud to be a part of that. I think that’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me going, to know that you are helping these children.”

According to Willis, the CAC expects to hire a family advocate and a part-time therapist counselor in the near future.

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