The Times photos by Andrew Harp
Kelli Reiff, victim/trauma care coordinator, said despite what some may think in Hamilton County, child abuse is an issue.
The Times photos by Andrew Harp Kelli Reiff, victim/trauma care coordinator, said despite what some may think in Hamilton County, child abuse is an issue.
For working individuals, breakfast is about waking up, chewing on some food and drinking coffee. But for those at Cherish, a non-profit child advocacy center located in Noblesville, it means much more than that.
Cherish is having its fifth annual Hope for Children breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., Thursday, June 27 at the Delaware Township Community Center in Fishers.
Robinlynn Hildebrand, child forensic interviewer and director of community engagement, said the breakfast is a great way for people to give back to Cherish while still being able to continue their day and go to work.
"It's kind of one of our big pushes for the year," Hildebrand said.
Wendy Gamble, executive director since the center started in August 2009, said the name "Cherish" came from wanting to stand out from the clinical names of "Child Advocacy Center."
"This is about cherishing children. We want to cherish children, but there are a lot of other agencies out there. So, it just became Cherish," Gamble said.
Before the existence of Cherish, which serves the Hamilton County community, if a child were to report an allegation of abuse, they would have to tell their story several times to different agencies who deal with these cases, including criminal and legal entities.
Hildebrand said this can be really difficult for the victim and may traumatize them each time they tell their story. With Cherish, victims only need to tell their story once, which usually lasts an hour and a half total, depending on the case. That interview can then be carried over into all the entities that may need to use the victim's account. In some cases, it might be best to have an "extended interview" and have the victim come in a second time if it's serve enough, but Hildebrand said it does not happen often.
"It's whatever is in the best interest of the child," Hildebrand said.
Interviewers are trained to elicit a victim's statement in a neutral way so that it's non-leading. There are four trained interviewers and 12 contracted therapists. Hildebrand said interviewers have anywhere from a bachelor's to a master's, usually in the fields of social work and criminal justice.
During the interview, cameras record and stream the conversation to a room where interested parties watch, including police and Child Protective Services. If necessary, the entities can help the interviewer if something needs to be asked. Hildebrand also said this helps to avoid children telling a different story each time, creating inconsistencies.
"It's hard for a child to tell the story exactly the same way several times in a row," Hildebrand said.
Within the center is Prevail, a non-profit that advocates for families who have faced abuse. Prevail meets with parents and families to discuss options and resources pertaining to legalities and therapy.
Hildebrand said victims interviewed are as young as 3-years-old, all the way to young adulthood. After the interview, interviewers will teach the victims about body safety and boundaries. She said they do not interview perpetrators or offenders, and do not let them in the building. From there, law enforcement or CPS may also decide to speak to parents or guardians.
Each case is unique and unfolds differently. A child can either come to the center to interview because of someone witnessing the abuse, seeing a change in behavior of the child or if the child tells someone. CPS is then called. If CPS feels the child needs to be interviewed, it'll call Cherish.
Occasionally, there will also be an immediate response where the child needs to get out of the house immediately and be interviewed if the perpetrator is in the home. Hildebrand said interviewers are on call because of this.
Since becoming an accredited child advocacy center three years ago, Cherish must now fulfill a component related to therapy. Before, Hildebrand said it would be uncomfortable after the interview since they did not follow up and provide resources for mental health and therapy.
Kelli Reiff, the victim/trauma care coordinator at Cherish, contacts all families and victims the week after the interview to follow up and see if they need any therapy services or resources. Families may need therapy right away. Other times, they'll wait a little longer.
"It might be four of five months down the road," Reiff said.
Reiff said Cherish is pretty picky about who they use in terms of therapists. All of the medical providers Cherish is contracted with are licensed and seasoned. There are currently two in-house providers but she said there will probably be a third in a month or two. She said the need for Cherish in Hamilton County is greater than one might think.
" 'Bad things don't happen. Child abuse isn't really prevalent here. Like, it happens, but it's not a big deal.' That's just not true," Reiff said.
In November, Cherish moved into a new facility located on Stony Creek Way. Hildebrand said this new building provides more space than the last facility, and has more privacy for families and therapy.
Hildebrand said 160 children and teens have been interviewed at Cherish since the first of the year. All the services at Cherish are free of charge to the victims. Because of Cherish's non-profit status, it depends on people's donations and grants.
"It's real important we have community support," Gamble said.
The breakfast will include a guest speech by Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness who will focus on the mental health component of the program. The breakfast will also take a moment to recognize all the different members and organizations that help Cherish succeed in its mission.
"It's not just our staff. It's hundreds of people that are actually in and out of here that do those jobs that we coordinate," Gamble said.
Breakfast will be catered by Sahm's. Individual tickets are $50 but companies can become a sponsor for $250 to $2,000.
"Every child deserves to be heard," Hildebrand said.