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Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center opening location in Jamestown

JAMESTOWN – Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center is opening a site in Jamestown, said Jane Link, director of development and engagement for the nonprofit. The site will initially be staffed on an as-needed basis for forensic interviews and advocacy services and will be located in one of the cottages on the grounds of the North Dakota State Hospital.

“Keeping our kids safe is a community effort and we are proud and excited to be a part of this partnership in Jamestown and surrounding areas,” said Paula Condol, executive director of Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center, in an email to The Jamestown Sun. “Our mission is to provide Hope, Health, and Healing to those who are abused and traumatized and we know that those services are only helpful to others when they are accessible. Providing these services locally will increase the accessibility and response to children and families in this area.”

One of three advocacy centers in North Dakota, Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center in Bismarck also has satellite locations in Dickinson, Watford City and Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The location in Jamestown is expected to eventually have full-time staff, Link said. The State Hospital entered into an agreement for the use of the cottage space, and work is underway to prepare it, said Tonya Perkins, administrator of the State Hospital.

“The North Dakota State Hospital is very excited to be a part of this project,” Perkins said. “After becoming aware of the community’s need, we knew that we wanted to help.”

Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center uses a multidisciplinary approach to reported child abuse cases, Link said, involving law enforcement, child protective services and medical professionals.

“We all come together to share information, gather facts and then assist the child abuse victim by all of us working together,” she said.

Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center provides the forensic interview and advocacy for the family. At the interview, a member of law enforcement from the jurisdiction where the alleged offense occurred is present, along with child protective services and a medical examiner. They are able to observe the interview conducted by a trained forensic interviewer, soa child doesn’t have to repeat over and over what happened, Link said. That makes the child more comfortable and strengthens the case. Before advocacy centers were established, Link said children had to tell their story on average 15 times, which continued to repeat their trauma.

An advocate meets with the nonoffending caregiver on issues, sets up therapy appointments, keeps them aware of any court processes and guides them through the situation, Link said.

“All of our services are at no cost to the family,” she said. “If they have insurance, we can bill insurance, but if they don’t, they get the same services regardless.”

The advocacy center also receives federal, state, foundation and community support to operate.

“Without donations, it would be really hard for us to exist,” Link said.

In 2022, Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center served 907 individuals, according to its annual report,and more than 60% were ages 17 and younger.

“We don’t say just children (are served) because we also do mental health services for adults,” Link said. “Any adult that’s been through trauma, or maybe it’s … daughter needs to repair the relationship with mom because how did mom not know stepdad was abusing her daughter for years. Mom’s depressed. We help mom too.”

In 2022, about 46% of the nonprofit’s cases were sexual abuse, about 18% were physical abuse and the remaining cases included neglect, drug endangered, witness to violence, child exploitation and others, according to the annual report. Ninety-eight percent knew their offender.

Link said 1 in every 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse by age 18. Most of the time, it is a family member or a close family friend, so the entire family is torn apart or experiencing trauma, she said.

“We provide evidence-based therapy to specifically process through trauma,” Link said.

In 2022, 39% of kids served by Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center were from rural communities, and travel is often difficult for those being served, she said.

“This (site) being there (in Jamestown), it will really just help the logistics for law enforcement and for those families we serve to not have to travel so far,” Link said.

Detective Capt. LeRoy Gross of the Jamestown Police Department has been working on the project and raising donations to help fund the cottage remodeling and other needs for the location. He said having the location in Jamestown will make “a big, big difference” to people in this area.

“We had put together some numbers and found out that there were about 150 of these forensic interviews conducted in our district – which is Jamestown, Valley City, south and north of here,” he said. “There were 150 of them last year.”

That’s a lot of people needing to travel, he noted, including law enforcement, social services and families. Many times the families can’t afford to take a day off and there are expenses including food and gas vouchers, he said.

Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center provides minimal facts training for law enforcement and other organizations to know the first questions to ask and what not to ask. It also offers free prevention education. Both will be available in Jamestown, she said.

Source: jamestownsun