Grand opening for The Little House
When: 2 to 6 p.m. Friday
Where: 603 Washington St., Gainesville
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The more than 400 Hall and Dawson county children suspected as victims of physical or sexual abuse this year can now undergo medical evaluations in a welcoming new building accented with flowers and toys.
The Little House will celebrate its grand opening Friday. The building on Washington Street in Gainesville will house both the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children and Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The Edmondson-Telford Center has been at the Washington Street location for 11 years, but the building where it was previously housed was nearly 100 years old and in need of renovations too costly for the agency.
So, the Edmondson-Telford Center joined forces with CASA to construct the bright and inviting building.
Both child advocacy agencies play crucial roles in ushering children through the legal system and ensuring their abusers are properly prosecuted.
CASA workers escort children to and from court and are the eyes and ears of the court system. Court appointed special advocates make sure the child is being properly cared for in their home while the court system weighs charges against suspected abusers and decides the child’s fate.
Heather Hayes, executive director of the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, said the center is where children are brought for evidence collection.
Hayes said instead of authorities taking children whose family members or teachers suspect have been abused to the Sheriff’s department — where they might be interviewed in an environment usually reserved for criminals — children are taken to the kid-friendly Edmondson-Telford Center.
Because about 85 percent of child abuse cases turn up no evidence within the three-day window for collection, Hayes said it’s very important that counselors at the agency are able to document a child’s side of the story in an environment where they do not feel threatened. She said counselors at the Edmondson-Telford Center use video and audio recorders to document details given by the children about what abuse has happened to them.
“The forensic interview is about figuring out what happened to the child exactly,” Hayes said.
The third local agency crucial in helping a child recover from sexual abuse is the Children’s Center for Hope and Healing, which provides professional counseling for abused children. Hayes said with a 5,000-square-foot area downstairs in the new Washington Street building, she’s hoping the counseling center can eventually relocate to The Little House.
“If you look at the three components of healing, the children can be taken care of from start to finish,” she said. “Now, instead of a child being toted from one building to another to another, they can just come here.”
She said The Little House ultimately aims to minimize trauma for children who have already endured horrific experiences.
Hayes said she feels Hall and Dawson counties have excellent resources for responding to child abuse in the community. Because the three children’s advocate agencies work closely with local and state law enforcement, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Division of Children and Family Services and local school systems, she said she believes more abuse cases are reported in the two-county area.
Hall County ranks sixth in the state for the highest number of sexual abuse prosecutions involving children, Hayes said. She said that may be in part because there is an emphasis on reporting it to authorities here, and because District Attorney Lee Darragh makes child abuse cases a priority.
Also, she said the Edmondson-Telford Center’s process for gathering evidence helps lead to prosecutions.
Hayes said bruises, withdrawn attitudes or inappropriate sexual behavior from a child may suggest they are being abused, and it’s best for an adult who believes a child may be in harm’s way to call local law enforcement before questioning a child. She said authorities who are trained to determine whether a child is being abused can then evaluate if he or she is in danger.
“If you suspect it, report it,” Hayes said of sexual or physical child abuse. “Then, let this process do what it’s supposed to do. We are not prosecuting innocent people. Nothing will happen if it’s not going on. You will not be identified and a child will not be ripped out of their home.”