As Diana Schunn described it, a former home for children will once again become a home for children.
Schunn is the director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, which hopes to move into the former Lincoln Elementary School near Lincoln and Emporia by September of next year.
On Thursday she stood with and other local authorities at the school and made a public plea for dollars and support to renovate the old school to help the abused children her center serves. They have $2.7 million already from pledges and donations. They need $1.8 million more by Dec. 15.
One person with her: Marc Bennett, the Sedgwick County district attorney. Before he became district attorney last year, he spent years in that office prosecuting child abuse cases.
A few years ago, Bennett said, he took part in a training seminar in Dallas for authorities like himself who handle those investigations.
Someone in Dallas asked the seminar audience of police, prosecutors and others how many of them worked in basements.
Nearly everyone in the room held up their hands.
The point, Bennett said, is that child abuse prosecutors like himself or police units like the Exploited and Missing Child Unit of Sedgwick County, are often tucked away in basements – as EMCU currently is, in the state office building downtown. And they handle some of the more emotionally tough cases any prosecutor or cop or social worker can face: sexual or physical child abuse or neglect.
“But there’s a reason people go and work in basements like that,” Bennett said. “These cases get under your skin.”
The center bought the old school building to centralize services and reduce the burden the social system imposes on nearly 2,000 abused children in Sedgwick County every year. The problem is not that units like EMCU or center staff like hers are shoe-horned into basements, Schunn has said. It is that the services child abuse victims need are scattered all over town. She acquired the school building so that police, prosecutors, medical staff, counselors, victim advocates and even fundraising groups like ICT S.O.S. will be able to work in the same place.
That will cut down significantly on hassles, redundant investigative questions, and the number of trips to appointments the child victims and their families face in the aftermath of abuse, Schunn said.