Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center

Facility creates safe haven for victims of abuse

Atop a hill along South East Inner Loop sits a Victorian-style house, painted in a soft yellow and highlighted with a bright red door. The 7,500-square-foot building is home to the Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides a safe place for children reporting sexual or physical abuse.

Executive Director Brenda Staples said the facility is supposed to create a welcoming environment for children and potentially the child's family.

"The process that the children go through is designed to reduce trauma," she said.

Inside the building, there are waiting rooms and playrooms filled with age-appropriate furniture and toys for the children throughout the county that the center serves, who range in age from newborn to 17.

The three interview and observation suites are also designed with the age of the child in mind. The trained forensic interviewers are also child development specialists who ask children non-leading questions on the behalf of law enforcement, child protective services or prosecuting attorneys.

"They will sit and interview on their behalf in a child-friendly manner in the child's native language, using the child's words," Staples said.

Before the creation of child advocacy centers about 20 years ago, Staples said a child would be interviewed by multiple government agencies and the interviews could take place in a police station or official's office—which can be an intimidating situation for a child already going through a frightening time.

"It was not a level playing field for children and adults when children were victims," she said.

The center is supported by the community and by federal, state and local grants as well as two fundraisers each year. In addition to performing about 600–650 forensic interviews each year, the advocacy center provides counseling, forensic medical exams and coordinates the child protection team made up of other agencies that are responsible for making sure all of the child's needs are met in the initial stages of a case.

About one year ago, the advocacy center launched a community outreach program. Outreach Coordinator Courtney Simon is available to give free seminars to school districts, day care centers, civic groups, churches and other organizations that work with youth to help people recognize and report abuse.

Simon said only one out of 10 children who are experiencing abuse will speak out about it, and the other nine are only displaying nonverbal cues such as misbehaving, changing eating patterns or shutting down.

"That's one of the reasons that we try to teach teachers and everyone what to look for, because there are nine other kids that have been abused and are not telling about it," Simon said.

Staples said the best thing one can do if they suspect child abuse is to call and report it so trained professionals can make sure the integrity of the case is preserved.

"It is extremely important that from the original outcry all the way through the process, things are done with great care and professionalism, because these cases are very fragile, as fragile as these kids are," Staples said.

If you suspect child abuse or neglect:

  • DO listen to the child and be aware of your reactions
  • DO report child abuse suspicions to law enforcement or the Texas Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400
  • DO NOT try to investigate or obtain information from others
  • DO NOT confront the accused abuser or notify anyone other than the authorities

Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center, 1811 S.E. Inner Loop, 943-3701, www.wilcocac.org