Grantee Spotlight: William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center

As we begin the new-year full of resolutions and new beginnings we want to highlight one of our grantees who help child abuse victims find a hopeful new beginning. This month’s spotlight grantee is the William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center serving Rogers, Craig & Mayes Counties.

Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthdays. This means that in any classroom and in every school, there are children silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.

The mission of the William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center “is to reduce trauma to child abuse victims. We coordinate a professional, multidisciplinary team approach that provides assessment, treatment, and education in a safe, child-friendly environment. Our help is their hope.”

William W. Barnes Children's Advocacy Center

When children visit the center they are greeted by a bright and colorful waiting room filled with toys. This room serves as the first step to help put them at ease as they enter a place where they will talk openly about their traumatic experiences. Colorful hand prints of all shapes and sizes cover the walls representing each abused child who has visited the center.

“On average we see almost 350 children each year”, says Holly Webb, the Center’s Executive Director. “80% of our cases are sexual abuse and the other 20% are severe neglect and physical abuse cases.”

Child victims are greeted in the waiting area by their forensic interviewer & medical examiner. They first stop by the snack room where they choose a snack and drink before the interview process begins. Jodie Hunt the Center’s Forensic Interviewer explains the process. Her goal is to gain their trust by being transparent about the process. She lets them know the interview room is equipped with recording devices and that important and trusted adults are listening. Once they are one on one in the interview room, she says to the child, “Tell me about yourself.”

In the next room is a team of appropriate law enforcement and child protective service personnel watching and listening to the interview live from a flat screen TV. This is critical. This means the child only has to tell their story once. Before Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC), a child might have to tell their story up to 8 times and testify in court with their abuser present. Any discrepancies in the stories could lead to the case being thrown out. Now CAC’s across the nation use technology to record interviews and these recordings are used to provide forensic evidence for court proceedings. Most often there is no physical evidence and cases can be tough to prosecute. These recorded interviews become imperative to placing the abuser behind bars.

This forensic interview is just one of the services the William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center provides. Other services include: forensic medical examinations, crisis intervention, victim advocacy, mental health treatment, non-offending caregiver education and support, and prevention training programs. Ongoing therapy is included at no price for victims and many come back to the center years later often during puberty. This is a place they trust and a place they need desperately to heal emotional scars at different points in their lives.

The Oklahoma Bar Foundation, through its grants and awards program, has provided $30,000 in funding over the past 7 years to the Center’s prevention training program for child care workers, law enforcement, child welfare workers and educators on the most effective ways to recognize, respond and report child abuse. A teacher or child care provider is often the first person a child will tell. The immediate response from this trusted person is fundamental to the child. Oklahoma educators are required by law to report to law enforcement and/or the Oklahoma Department of Human Services any suspected abuse or neglect of a child under the age of 18.

William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center is one of 785 CAC’s in the nation according to the National Children’s Alliance. The center is named after Dr. William W. Barnes, in appreciation for his commitment to child victims of trauma. Dr. Barnes has served as a pediatrician in Rogers County since 1974. His expertise as a medical professional in child abuse cases continues to play a role in the protection of children.

New beginnings of healing and hope for child abuse victims begin when they visit William W. Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center. We are thankful for this organization and proud to call them one of our grantees.