With the growing number of abused and neglected children in the Big Country, law enforcement work with some organizations.
They record the interviews so that the children don’t have to re-explain everything in court.
The Heart of Texas Children’s Advocacy Center serves kids who have made an outcry of abuse or suspected to abuse, allowing them to be able to heal from their trauma.
Since the center opened in 2012, they have served nearly 1,200 children.
When a call is made to law enforcement or Child Protective Services (CPS), the children are referred to the center for a forensic interview.
“A method that is child-led. It’s not an interrogation at all. It just allows the child the opportunity to tell about their experiences in their own words”, Christy Robinson said, who is the executive director and forensic interviewer.
The center covers six counties; Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Menard, McCulloch and Mills.
“If it goes all the way through the court, then we testify in court. We provide court preparation, we help the kid through the process, because usually the child does have to testify in court. So, our family advocates are there with the family and with the child during that process as well,” Robinson said.
Texas is one of sixteen states that require all adults to be mandated reporters.
“Which means, you don’t have to be in what people consider a position of authority to make that call. If you’re their next-door neighbor and you think something’s going on, you’re mandated by law to make a phone call and report that suspected abuse,” Robinson said.
Following the interview, a family advocate steps in and follows the family until the case is over, even if the child has gone back to their family or foster home.
“Some kids do get to go back home, some kids might have to go with a relative, some kids might be placed in foster care, so if they leave here, and they’re not going to go back home, sometimes they literally leave our door with what we send with them and with the clothes they have on their back,” family advocate Jennifer Yeats said.
To help the kids cope, a counselor from the center meets one-on-one with the kids, usually on a weekly basis.
“I want them to feel comfortable and I feel like this is a fun place and a happy place, but I also have a curriculum that I follow that really specifically gives them coping skills, as well as giving them a sense of like, their own ownership over what happened to them as part of the healing process,” Liz Hatlestad said, who is a licensed professional counselor.
The center tries to make the kids feel supported and is really inclusive with parents.
“I think the kids feel really supported and they know that when they’re here, it’s okay to talk about anything, that they are going to be believed about what happened to them and that they’re going to find some support from all of the grown-ups here.” Hatlestad said.
Heart of Texas Children’s Advocacy Center collects donations for the kids in their “rainbow closet”. They accept things like hygiene products, school supplies, snacks and gently-used toys.
“Our rainbow closet, that we call it, it is donations from the community only. It’s hygiene items, backpacks, blankets, beach towels, from ages 2 all the way up to 18, sometimes older than 18,” Yeats said.
If you would like to donate to the center, you can drop these items off at their location:
1305 Early Blvd.
Early, TX 76802
Their office hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The office’s phone number is: (325) 646-7148.