LEWISTON – In order to get help, abused children in Maine often have to talk to an array of strangers: police officers, caseworkers, doctors and counselors.
Interviews are often one on one, and children have to retell their sexual or physical abuse stories with every new person. A new center hopes to change that for kids in Androscoggin County.
Social workers, police officers and other advocates for children have created the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center. Attached to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center on Pine Street in Lewiston, the small center will allow children to talk with one trained professional while others watch and feed questions to the interviewer from the next room.
“That allows everyone to get their interview at the same time,” said Marty McIntyre, director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center.
McIntyre and other officials have spent the past few years developing the advocacy center. Such centers are common throughout the rest of the country, but this is the first in Maine, McIntyre said.
The center will take over two rooms at the Sexual Assault Crisis Center. One will be set up as a kid-friendly interview room with child-sized seating and video equipment. The other will be set aside for police, caseworkers or other officials to monitor the interview by watching a live video feed. When officials want to ask a question, they can talk to the interviewer over a phone that connects the two rooms.
The center will be reserved for children reported to be victims of sexual or serious physical abuse. Interviewers will be trained this June. The center will open for interviews in July.
It already is open for case review sessions, which allow police, caseworkers, representatives from the district attorney’s office and other advocates to gather, discuss specific cases and ensure that the needs of the victims and their families are being met. In the past, some victims didn’t receive all of the help available to them because officials involved in the case failed to communicate.
The center will serve children in Androscoggin County at the start. McIntyre and other advocates hope to expand eventually to help children elsewhere in the region.
The center has been funded this year with a $50,000 grant from the National Children’s Alliance.