Wichitans cannot see for themselves much of the neglect, abuse or sexual exploitation of children and teens that happens here, nor even imagine the worst of it.
But trust Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett when he says the need for the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County is “profound,” which means so is the need for the public and private funding that finally will enable the 6-year-old center to renovate and move into its own child- and family-focused facility sometime next year or early 2016.
Doing so promises to streamline and strengthen investigations, reduce stress on victims, and further emotional and physical healing.
“We’re talking about children who are the victims of some of the worst kind of crime that can occur,” Bennett told The Eagle editorial board Friday, noting the need for someplace where families across the socioeconomic spectrum can come in for “wraparound” services and follow-up.
As it is, the multidisciplinary team effort to investigate, prosecute and otherwise handle about 2,000 such cases every year is based in the basement of the Finney State Office Building – a cramped, less-than-private setting in which child victims now risk crossing paths with their abusers.
Once the center relocates to the former Lincoln Elementary School, about 55 professionals from eight agencies will be on site. That will include Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office investigators assigned to the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, social workers from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, and health personnel from the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, Via Christi Health and Wesley Medical Center.
According to Bennett, the center also will house the Sedgwick County-administered Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children task force, which works with law enforcement across the country as it investigates the worsening problems of child pornography and online solicitation of youths.
The coming days are key for the long-running effort, which has raised $4 million toward the $6.5 million goal.
The Sedgwick County Commission, which has supported the center’s operations, is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to contribute $1 million for the renovation. The money would be transferred from a $7.4 million operating reserve. Even after the expenditure, the county expects to collect $600,000 more in the general fund than it plans to spend by the end of 2014. As County Manager William Buchanan has said, the county budgets for such unanticipated expenses, and fulfilling the center’s request will not affect the county’s bottom line.
The center also needs to raise about $124,000 more by Dec. 15 in private donations to fulfill a $500,000 challenge grant. (Call 316-660-9494 or go to cacsckansas.org to help.)
“We know the support is there,” Bennett said.
Individual and business donors should prove him right, as county commissioners further endorse the Child Advocacy Center’s urgent mission by fulfilling its $1 million wish.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman