The Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center has cast its safety net that much wider than it was before. A program operating under the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse, the CAC opened its doors in 2007. They are a coordinated response to child abuse and come together with law enforcement, social services and medical professionals to provide services to a child who has been sexually or physically abused. Only one interview is conducted, to prevent the child from having to recount the story over and over again. Also, instead of having to shop around for mental health or medical services, they are available through the CAC.
When a case goes to trial, which can last one or two weeks at a time, the victim and his or her family have to wait in a private room until it’s time for them to testify. There’s only one restroom on the third floor and it’s at the other end of the hall from the room used for sequestering. Both Sherry Reinhardt, the executive director of the CAC, and Sue Gauthier, volunteer coordinator and court advocate, have seen firsthand the trauma inflicted on children when they have to walk by the alleged offender in order to go to the bathroom.
“It’s terrifying for a child,” Reinhardt said. “We actually had a child who would not go to court because she was worried she’d have to go to the bathroom.”
There’s usually a long period of time from when the victim first comes to the CAC and when they go to court.
“It could be six months or it could be a year and a half,” Gauthiersaid. “The child is starting to heal and then they’ll relive it again by going to court.”
The main purpose of the CAC is to prevent further trauma, it’s the model the center was built upon, Reinhardt said. The solution was to find another place, close to the courthouse, that the victim and family could stay until they had to testify. When space became available on the second floor above the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, right across the street from the courthouse, Reinhardt applied for grant funding to rent the space and for monthly electricity costs.
The room, which Gauthieralso uses as her office, is a bright and airy place with windows looking out across Court Square. There’s an adjoining kitchen, as well as toys and games for children, a television and wi-fi access for parents. Lunch can be delivered in or they can visit one of the neighboring restaurants.
“Now we can truly say we are providing a less traumatic experience,” Reinhardt said.