Lonoke County has a wealth of organizations that support victims of violence, abuse and neglect, or all of them. Safe Haven, Open Arms Shelter, Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), Court Appointed Special Advocates are locally supported organizations that reach out to the area’s most vulnerable.
For the traumatized child victim, Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center offers a tail-wagging welcome by Jake, the therapy dog, in a quiet, child-friendly atmosphere, rather than the open glare of a police department, sometimes in the same room with the abuser.
The center was established in 2005 to better care for child victims of abuse and neglect, and to ensure effective prosecution of abusers. Those goals are being met, but there appears to be no slowdown of victims, Karen James, executive director, remarked in an interview.
But their success is a reflection of the “amazing” support of the communities in the county, James said. Wade Knox CAC is in the final stages of preparing to expand with a 2,750 square-foot addition, which will house an interview room, family room, mental-health therapy room, as well as education and meeting room.
A Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child focused, facility-based program that combines law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim’s advocacy for forensic interviews and making decisions in the investigation, treatment, management, and prosecution of child abuse cases.
“The more we can do here, the better it is for the child,” James said. Every “outside” service has procedures for its own protection when ministering to abuse cases, which generally means the child has to recount, again, what is likely the worst experience in their life, James said.
There is much behind the scenes at the center, but the child is always the first priority, forensic interviewer Robin Smith said. “We are here for the child. Not the prosecutor, not law enforcement, not child protective services.”
For prosecuting attorney Chuck Graham, the priorities are fine. “[CAC] is the most effective thing for child victims we have ever created,” he declared. “I was here in 2003 before [CAC] started. I can tell you the difference is like night and day. I have seen both ways. This is way more effective.
“I will absolutely support it however I can, it is continually growing and getting more effective. We will use it as long as I am prosecutor,” he exclaimed.
But the fact is that the cases are also growing. “Last year  we did 167 interviews. So far this year we have seen 135 [children] and it is only July,” James said. Since the center opened there have been more than 1,300 interviews done.
Whether the numbers indicate a greater incidence or better awareness remains to be seen. The Wade Knox CAC not only works with child victims, but also conducts an educational outreach into all the county’s school districts.
“Since the beginning of the year, there have been 2,680 students hear our presentations,” James said. And seldom is there not at least one disclosure, one child to come and say it is happening to them because of what they learn, she said.
Sharon Rudder, advocate for education, said they have an array of presentations used for primary through high school.
“The schools decide what will be presented,” Rudder said. For Cabot, she speaks to the ninth-grade health classes on sexting, date violence and bullying.
For Lonoke fifth graders, she speaks on bullying.
Also first graders hear “Speak up, Be Safe,” Rudder said. The presentation speaks about not only strangers, but what to do if the child knows the person.
“Much of the time, the abuser is someone they know and that makes it difficult for them to say ‘no,’” Rudder said. The presentation tells about personal touching because often the child does not understand what is happening to them, “And it tells them it is OK to say ‘no,’ and then leave,” she said.
Rudder said she knows her presentations have an effect because she has seen disclosures, when a child tells about being abused, come afterward.
Other members of the Wade Knox Center staff include medical director Dr. Karen Farst, from UAMS; nurse Deanna Rogers; mental health therapist Angela Etchinson; and victim advocate Robyn Ketchum.
Of course, there is the newest staff member – Jacob Henry, better known as Jake - an animal shelter rescue.
Jake’s first day on the job was June 6, 2011, and he quickly proved to be a natural for his post as comforter. While there is the infrequent fearful child, overall Jake was been warmly received by the families, James said.
All services provided by the center are at no cost to victims or their families, James said. “We can use a lot of help in that area.”
The CAC “wish list” of items that can be donated, includes copy paper, manila folders, flash drives, and items such as paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, trash bags, drinks and bottled water. Treats for Jake, the therapy dog, would be appreciated, James said.
Gift cards for gas purchases, or for food services are always needed, James said.
“We also would like to come speak to groups, churches, whoever wants to hear about what we do,” James said.
Wade Knox CAC has a 13-member board of directors: president - Bo Bevis, Cabot; vice president - Jeannie Holt, Lonoke; treasurer – John Twyford, Cabot; secretary - Caroline Bennett, Lonoke; and members Nancy Morey, Carlisle; Steven Chamness, North Little Rock; Cindy Thaxton, Carlisle; Deborah Oglesby, Cabot; Melissa Brown, England; Francisco Alvero, Lonoke; Tracy Blake, England; George Crumbly, Cabot; Jill Cunningham, Carlisle; and Jim Bailey, Lonoke.