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Coast Child Abuse Prevention Center At Risk Of Closing

By Evelina Burnett | Published 09 Jul 2014 04:11pm | comments

The Mississippi coast has more child abuse and neglect cases than any other part of the state. One organization that works to help prevent abuse and advocate for victims is at risk of shutting its doors for good. 

The Child Abuse Prevention Center in Gulfport has provided prevention and advocacy services since 1988. These range from parenting classes and welcome baby programs, to child advocacy services and forensic interviewing.

But financial problems stemming primarily from the difficult economy meant it had to let go of most of its staff at the end of June.

The only employees left are a forensic interviewer and a book-keeper, and probably only until the end of this month.

But Jim Allen, president of the center’s board of directors, says he's hopeful there may be another solution.

“What we are looking for right now is a similarly minded non-profit organization who will partner with us to come in and try to help us regain the services we once had,” Allen says.

The number of child abuse cases on the coast has risen 33 percent since 2009. One of the center's most critical services is the forensic interviewing. Joel Smith, district attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties, says these interviews are an integral part of the prosecution of child abuse cases.

“The forensic interviews allow jurors to have additional insight into the mindset of a child victim," Smith says. "It allows them to see beyond the limited vocabulary of a 4, 5, 6 year old child, and learn more about what the child has experienced as a victim in their case.”

The Child Abuse Prevention Center handled around 460 cases every year. District Attorney Smith says, in the interim, while the center is looking for a partner, his office will turn to trained interviewers in local police departments and the DA’s office. 

Allen says the center has been struggling since Hurricane Katrina.

"We believed that after Katrina as things improved, we would improve as well," he says. "And then as everybody knows, the economy hit. The two were sort of like a knock-out punch for us. We've never been able to fully recover from that."

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