The mission of Ellis County Children's Advocacy Center is to help young victims that have been involved in cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, homicide or who have witnessed a child death. The center works with local law enforcement agencies to provide a safe place where victims can be interviewed once and not have to re-live the experience though multiple interviews.
“I always view the Gingerbread house is an organization that you wish the county didn’t need at all but it is good that we are there to help the law enforcement agencies, district attorney's office, child protective services and Ellis County Juvenile Probation service,” Executive Director John Wyckoff said. “The majority of the cases that come through are sexual abuse, severe physical abuses and also interviews kids that have been a witness to a child death or a homicide. We are looking to see if there is something that needs to be addressed by law enforcement or CPS.”
Wyckoff said interviews are conducted with a forensic interviewer for the child victims and their non-offending family members. The center’s goal is to optimize the investigative and prosecution process; provide quality legal, psychological, social and medical services for abused children and to heighten community awareness.
The center’s fiscal year runs from Sept. 1 – Aug. 31. In the 2014 fiscal year, the center had a total of 278 cases. Of these 278 cases, the alleged perpetrator was a stranger to victim in only 2 percent of them. In the remaining cases, the alleged perpetrator to the victim was 34 percent for known non-relative, 23 percent was the father, 4 percent was the mother, 7 percent was the step-father, 11 percent was a paramour of the mother, 4 percent was a male sibling, 2 percent was female sibling, 3 percent was a male step-sibling and 14 percent was another relative. The alleged perpetrator in 161 cases was male and only 21 were female. For the 2015 fiscal year, the center is projecting to have around 260 cases.
Along with providing a safe place for victims to share their story the center also provides counseling services with a licensed councilor that is on staff. The councilor uses play therapy in the center’s playroom. This type of the gives the councilor clues and insight to what the child is going through by how they play. The playroom features many different toys that included dollhouse, a sand table, puppets, trucks; dolls and a kitchen play set.
The Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center board President Jesse DeLeon said the councilor helps the child to heal and the playroom provides a safe place for that to happen.
“Originally we only had the interviewer. Now we have that actual councilor that can provide help for the victim,” DeLeon said. “They are in an area where they are not threatened. They are able to be more open and honest. They are able to demonstrate things in there and work through those issues.”
DeLeon said the center is a place for children to be heard and have their side voiced. At the same time it allows the process to work properly and to determine if there are legal grounds for proceeding with a case, DeLeon said. The center is working to educate the public about the services that they have to offer.
People who want to find out more about the center or make a donation they can contact its staff at 972-937-1870 or go online to www.elliscountygingerbreadhouse.org. The center is located at 425 E. Ross St. in Waxahachie.