Addie’s Place brings comfort and justice to child abuse victims

Diane Watson, left, program manager/forensic interviewer at Addie’s Place, and Executive Director Kayren Howton in the area of the center where forensic interviews with child abuse victims take place.

DOUBLE SPRINGS    -  The heartbreaking reality for victims of child abuse is that they often hold in and try to process what happened to them instead of coming forward and seeking help.
The mission of  Addie’s Place, Winston County’s only children’s advocacy center, is that no other child experiences the trauma of child abuse, and that those who are victims have a place of comfort and trust to turn to.
“Our mission is to help all kids of Winston and Marion counties that have possibly endured any type of abuse,” began Kayren Howton, executive director of Addie’s Place.
Those types of abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal or emotional or even a witness to violence, Howton explained.

“Our goal is to be an investigative tool with our forensic interviews to help figure out exactly what has happened,” Howton stated.
Since Addie’s Place became a tax-exempt, stand-alone child advocacy center  apart from the Cramer Center on October 1, they have conducted forensic interviews with victims of 10 physical abuse cases, one juvenile exposed to child pornography; 16 sexual assault cases, one domestic violence victim and five witnesses to abuse or violence, according to Alabama Network for Children’s Advocacy Centers’ reports.
“We’re averaging about 10 to 15 interviews a month,” Howton pointed out. These numbers are children who have disclosed abuse or are child abuse cases that have been reported, she added.
“I want you to think about the kids that never say a word, that suffer in silence,” Howton said. “There is no community immune.”
The child abuse victims are referred to Addie’s Place either through the Winston/Marion District Attorney’s Office or a law enforcement agency, at which time Addie’s Place officials go to work to help those children.
“Our job solely is to talk to children and find out what happened,” Howton stated. Addie’s Place serves children from ages 3-18.
Children meet with a forensic interviewer in a relaxing, comfortable setting away from parents, guardians and law enforcement.
Meanwhile, law enforcement, DHR and the district attorney’s office,  are monitoring the recorded interview by a video screen in an observation room.
The parent or guardian bringing the child is in the waiting area, officials said.
When Addie’s Place conducts interviews with child abuse victims, they do so in a legally defensive manner, according to Howton.  This means  that Howton, or Program Manager/Forensic Interviewer Diane Watson strives to break down all barriers to communication, even to the point of using interpreters for language barriers, in order to better communicate with the child, Howton further explained.
“They are interviewed in the interview room with no one present except me and the child,” she stressed.
“That is why we call ourselves a tool for investigators,” Howton stated. “We start that investigation for them. We don’t get paid to have an opinion. Our job as a child forensic interviewer is to talk to the child and find out what happened.”
Sometimes child abuse reports turn out to be unfounded, but there are plenty of cases that are real and should be looked at more deeply, officials indicated.
 “For the kids who have disclosed those abuses, any kind of abuse that your mind can imagine, we will interview,” Howton pointed out.
The way a forensics interview is done with a child is not the same method used for an adult, according to Addie’s Place officials.  The center goes by a strict interview structure for a child, starting with asking the child questions to prepare them for the interview, asking the child to tell about himself or herself, fun things they like to do, etc., according to a list provided by the National Children’s Advocacy Center.
“It’s meeting them on their level,” Howton stated. All children are informed they are going to be recorded as they talk, she added.
The interview explains instructions and ground rules to cover, such as issues that might arise such as not knowing the answer, never guessing, not understanding, correcting and true/real situations.
Sometimes, a child can express their feelings or describe a situation by drawing a picture or writing down their feelings, interviewers said.
“Some kids are so uncomfortable saying it, they can draw it for you,” Howton said. “They can draw exactly what happened.”
Then the person conducting the interview will encourage the child to tell them about situations in as in-depth a manner as possible, followed by comments which are designed to encourage further narration or description from the child, according to the NCAC.
When questions center upon family, the child is encouraged to tell about everyone with whom they live.
The method by which the interview is done should start with a broad perspective but be narrowed down based on the child’s lead, the NCAC noted.
“I have seen the district attorney’s office investigator and I have seen the sheriff’s office investigators have a warrant ready when they leave this building after sitting through and listening to, watching, hearing a forensic interview on a child,” Howton stated.  “They have gathered the information they need  to do their legal end of it.”  
Addie’s Place not only conducts forensic interviews with children, but also provides trauma counseling and lines up medical exams, Howton said.
“Children who have been abused, they need to know their bodies are OK,” Howton stated. “They need to know they are OK.  The ones who are injured, they need to know they can heal.
“The message we’re trying to give out to children and teach them is to number one, have confidence,” Howton said. “Whatever trauma has happened to them, how to process it and how to protect yourself.  Not only process what has happened to you, but how to deal with it.”
Watson added it was important for child abuse victims to know the situation is not their fault.  Having retired as director of the county DHR, Watson has seen abuse from other perspectives, but chose to work at Addie’s Place to help child victims.
“I have worked with child advocacy centers for years and admired the work they do,” Watson said. “I understand completely how necessary it is.
“At one time while I was at DHR, we did not have a child advocacy center in our county,” Watson recalled.   “It was detrimental to a lot of the cases that we had. We didn’t get the end result we wanted, not just DHR, but law enforcement,  the DA, because we didn’t have that in Winston County.”
Jails, Howton continued, are full of people with unresolved childhood trauma.
“If that is unresolved in childhood, that bleeds over into adulthood,” Howton pointed out.
Howton concluded by saying no agency can work alone to resolve child abuse situations, but a unity of all the involved agencies can be for the overall betterment of the child victim.
“What role can we play to better this child,” Howton said. “That’s what our focus is. That’s how we keep our focus is, what is the end result?”
“We’re here to help those children through that trauma they just experienced,” Watson added.

How to report
child abuse

Those who suspect or know of child abuse, need to contact the DHR in their respective county or local law enforcement agency.
Winston County DHR can be reached by calling 659-247-6000.  Marion County DHR can be reached by calling (205) 921-6000. The Winston County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (205) 489-2115.  The Marion County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (205) 921-7433.
Those who witness or believe a child is actively being abused are encouraged to call 9-1-1 any time.  Winston County DHR keeps a worker on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Addie’s Place also has a worker on call 24-hours-a-day and is available at all hours in case an emergency interview is needed.
Addie’s Place can be reached by calling (205) 489-2178.


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