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West Virginia Legislators Hope To Maintain, Improve Child Advocacy Centers

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The West Virginia Legislature's Select committee is hoping to add 50 new troopers to the Crimes Against Children Unit. But that's only half of it.

The committee has also met with Child Advocacy Centers across the state to study services available for abused children.

"We have to seek help for these children so they understand what's happened to them is not their fault. It's not something they did or caused to happen to themselves," Sgt. Adam Scott said.

That's where places like Child Advocacy Centers step in.

"Children who have been victims of abuse deserve respect. They deserve to be treated fairly. There needs to be a coordinated effort in the investigation of these crimes," said Mike Baker, Marion County CAC.

When a child arrives at a CAC, the first thing they do is talk about their experiences with a trained forensic interviewer. Meanwhile, in another room law enforcement and prosecutors are taking notes and preparing to make a case.

"They all come here and they watch by closed circuit television to observe the interview and reduce the number of times the child actually has to talk to professionals that are doing the investigations," Baker said.

The West Virginia Legislature's Select Committee on Crimes Against Children wants to make sure services like the CAC are maintained and improved.

"We want to make sure we focus on the victims. Helping the victims recover and not just bringing the perpetrators to justice," said Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.

This requires making the lives of the children as easy as possible. Delegates said having a CAC in each county is a huge part in that.

"We now cover 42 counties and we are expanding but we have the same line item in the budget," Fleischauer said.

The West Virginia Child Advocacy Network is a statewide coalition dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse.

The network is composed of 30 CACs that serve 32 of West Virginia's 55 counties.

"When a new CAC comes on board, which is great, they take away resources from the ones that have been working to obtain national accreditation," Fleischauer said.

WVCAN is a 501c3 organization and runs on government funds and donations. It aims to provide courtesy services to every county in the state.

"We hope that no child has to travel more than one hour to get to a Child Advocacy Center. But there are currently many counties that are under served or not served at all," Baker said.

The legislation will be presented to lawmakers this January.