The reason it’s needed is tragically sad – because more than 1,800 children are the victims of abuse, neglect or sex trafficking in our community every year. But it will be a happy day when the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County opens a long-sought site of its own, where the vulnerable victims and families can be handled with privacy and care as their cases are investigated.
Wichita and Sedgwick County has seen aggressive law enforcement related to child abuse and neglect cases, thanks to the outstanding collaborative work of the detectives, social workers and administrators with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit and the prosecutors in the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office.
But the community has long lacked a child advocacy center comparable to the 17 elsewhere in Kansas and the more than 700 nationwide. Once the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County began operating in 2008, the goal became opening a full-service, child-focused, family-friendly facility.
Now individuals, foundations and businesses should step forward to help the center raise the $4.5 million needed for its capital campaign, which is being launched at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the former Lincoln Elementary at 1211 S. Emporia. With $2.7 million already committed, including half a million from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, the center board and executive director Diana Schunn anticipate a 2015 opening of the transformed school.
The new center will be unique in the state in co-locating nearly every function related to such cases, with interview rooms, a medical suite, therapy rooms and private family waiting rooms in addition to office space for the center staff, investigators, social workers, prosecutors and advocates. About 10 partnering entities will be involved with the nonprofit center, which has been funded to date by Sedgwick County and anticipates ongoing support from the city of Wichita and the state.
“This is what I’d hoped for,” said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, who is on the center’s board and campaign team.
Not only will the facility streamline the process for children and their caregivers and ease the emotional and physical healing. It should strengthen the investigations while reducing costs by avoiding redundant interviews and exams and otherwise being more efficient. It also will account for the heightened local and state awareness regarding sex trafficking, and facilitate a strong response to it via the justice system.
Most important, the new center promises to be a source of comfort during a terrible time in a child’s life. With enough donors’ help now, the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County will be sure to be there for such children and their families for decades to come.