By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2011, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center interviewed 420 children referred to it on the suspicion they may have been victims of sexual abuse.
Of those cases, 53 were accepted for prosecution, 36 abusers pled guilty, five abusers were convicted in jury trials, and no abusers were acquitted.
Now, after moving into larger quarters in Dilworth last October, the agency aims to be serving 600 children a year within the next 18 months to two years.
“We’ll be able to see twice as many kids as we did in the old facility,” says Penelope Wilson, director of development and communications for Pat’s Place.
Formed in 2004, the agency operates with an annual budget of $650,000 and a staff of eight people.
Its mission, Wilson says, is to “drive the resolutions of child sexual-abuse cases in Mecklenburg County, provide a safe environment that puts the well-being of the children first, and break the cycle of sexual abuse.”
Pat’s Place conducts medical examinations of children, for example, through a partnership with the Pediatric Resource Center at Levine Children’s Hospital.
Pat’s Place also employs three family advocates who provide resources for families, including mental-health therapy and an alternative place to stay if the perpetrator of abuse still lives in the home.
And it conducts forensic interviews that are designed to provide a safe place for children.
Interviewing the children, all of them referred to the agency either by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department or the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, are licensed clinical social workers.
And observing the interviews, which are videotaped are representatives from the referring agencies, and from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, Pediatric Resource Center at Levine Children’s Hospital, and local mental-health providers.
And during the interview, the forensic interviewer takes a break to ask the observers from the other agencies if there is any additional information they need to help serve the child or put together a case for prosecuting the alleged abuser.
The process is designed to resolve child sexual-abuse cases and to keep the children from having to undergo an interview at each agency, the former process, a practice that typically caused them to have to relive the trauma each time they were interviewed.
Pat’s Place also employs a community-outreach family advocate who visits schools, faith-based groups and civic organizations to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and help adults identify signs that a child may have been abused.
To finance its plan to grow, Pat’s Place aims to ramp up its fundraising operation by focusing on raising “leadership” gifts of $1,000 or more and launching an effort to developed “planned gifts” through wills and estate plans.
Serving 600 children a year likely would increase the agency’s annual budget to $1.3 million to $1.4 million, Wilson says.
Pat’s Place also wants to add a mental-health therapist to its staff within a year, she says, a new position that has become increasingly important as children the agency started serving seven years ago now are reaching their mid-teens.
“They’re coming of age where they’re starting to date,” Wilson says. “And when that happens, memories come back and things need to be resolved in a different way, and we want to address that on site instead of referring them to another agency.”