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Child Advocacy Center faces budget cuts

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

Lincoln County’s Child Advocacy Center and at least 20 other North Carolina nonprofit organizations focused on aiding abused and neglected children will be forced to close their doors this year if they can’t find additional financial assistance following the state’s more than $7 million cut in grant funding.

Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse relies on the competitive Governor’s Crime Commission Grant to fund a significant percentage of the agency’s annual budget, and, in turn, provides services that help area children heal from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, Executive Director Sherry Reinhardt said.

The state allotted grant money to only 11 of the 33 organizations that applied for the funding, she said.

Without the more than $230,000 grant, the Lincoln County organization will cease operations, barring a financial miracle.

When broken down to its hourly rate, the local CAC requires roughly $113, which, over the course of a month, adds up to nearly $20,000, officials said.

According to the local CAC’s website, child abuse is a nationwide issue that in 2008 affected one child every 33 seconds and cost the federal government more than $100 billion.

Other CACs across the state have already suffered the consequences of the state’s financial deficit and shut down. Reinhardt knows if Lincoln County follows suit, the entire community will be impacted.

She and Board Chair Dr. Steve Austin recently issued a letter to various city and county organizations, businesses and law enforcement agencies, requesting they, too, join the fight to save the vital center by contacting state officials.

“Tell them that statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18,” the letter said.

It went on to tell community members to “demand a solution” from state officials.

While organization leaders said they anticipated state budget cuts affecting the local CAC this year, they did not predict the cuts would result in a financial crisis endangering the organization’s very existence.

“This is the absolute worst-case scenario,” Reinhardt said.

She and other local officials are rallying with N.C. legislators to allot each state-accredited CAC a portion of funding which child victim agencies typically don’t receive. She said each year the state administers a set amount of grant money to nonprofit organizations that cater to adult victims only. The same organizations also get to compete alongside CACs for additional funding.

“Children are on an all or nothing system for victim service money,” Reinhardt said.

Local law enforcement leaders are also concerned about the CAC’s future and the future of area children.

Sheriff David Carpenter remembered the days before the local child-friendly facility was built in 1991 when he served as a Lincoln County Sheriff’s investigator, completing interviews in an environment both unsettling and intimidating for children.

“It was traumatic especially for small children to have to go to four or five places as part of an investigation,” he said.

Carpenter doesn’t want Lincoln County to back track two decades in its approach to working with child victims.

Reinhardt described a community without a CAC, where children and their family members must endure the “tragic process” of longer wait periods and tedious questioning from one local official after another.

“An already badly traumatized child will be re-traumatized by the very system that is trying to assist them,” she said. “Most importantly, it means a child whose life has already been altered by abuse will be let down again by the adults in their world.”

Reinhardt went on to say adults’ maintain an unspoken societal obligation to protect children, and without providing readily available care, victims will be less likely to properly heal.

Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan more than agreed with Carpenter and Reinhardt, again noting the financial and mental burden connected to scheduling and traveling from one appointment to the next.

“Lincoln County’s Child Advocacy Center allows a safe place for these young victims to be interviewed by professional counselors and interviewers, to be seen by medical professionals, and to receive mental health treatment all in one location,” he said. “The loss of the CAC would be a huge blow to this community.”

He encouraged residents unfamiliar with the CAC to visit the facility and witness firsthand how the organization operates.

Lincoln County is prepared to fight for its children and make raising money for the Coalition Against Child Abuse and CAC an immediate priority.

“We will not accept…the closing of something the…community has worked so hard to build,” Reinhardt said. “We are going to remain positive.”

Lincoln County Coalition has also setup brightly-colored pinwheels this month on the courthouse lawn and police station grounds in recognition of Child Abuse Awareness Month. Blue ribbons have also been tied in area trees. Both displays represent “the bright future all children deserve,” Reinhardt said. For more information on the Coalition and CAC, located at 161 Policarp Street in Lincolnton, call (704) 736-1155 or visit cac-lincolncounty.org.

Donations may be made on the organization’s website or by mailing funds to the following address: Child Advocacy Center, P.O. Box 652, Lincolnton, NC 28093.

“Our children are our most precious gift from God,” Jordan said, “and when they hurt or are injured, it should hurt us all.”

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