The Rutherford Report—Center Helps Abused Children Talk, Heal

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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”

—Fredrick Douglass
Center Helps Abused Children Talk, Heal

In a building filled with toys, stuffed animals, colorful walls, and bright canvas prints of smiling kids, sea creatures, dogs, and other endearing images, abused children tell horror stories and begin the long process of healing.

Welcome to San Bernardino County Children’s Assessment Center.

The center—located on Gilbert Street in San Bernardino—opened in 2014, but the program dates back to 1992 when the Children’s Network Policy Council began exploring the creation of a one-stop center where young victims of sexual abuse could be interviewed and receive evidentiary medical exams.

Child advocates wanted to avoid traumatizing abused children by subjecting them to multiple interviews in multiple locations.

“Children get tired of telling the story about the most embarrassing moment in their lives,” Children’s Assessment Center Administrator Nancy Wolfe said.

San Bernardino County and Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital partnered to open the first center in a small, three-room medical office in 1994 but soon realized they needed more space to properly serve the hundreds of children annually coming through the center, which extended services to victims of physical abuse in 1998.

About five years after the program began, Children’s Fund marshaled a fundraising campaign to help purchase and refurbish a building on Tippecanoe Avenue, but over the years, the program outgrew that location as well.

The new center was designed to put children at ease as they undergo medical exams and talk to social workers trained in forensic interview techniques. The building features a playroom for waiting children, an outdoor garden, medical exam rooms, a kids’ kitchen stocked with snacks and juices, and interview rooms complete with video cameras and one-way mirrors.

Wolfe said social workers point out the cameras to children and even let them know others are watching behind the mirrors because they want to be as open as possible with victims.

Department of Behavioral Health staff and victim advocates from the District Attorney’s office are on site to ensure victims and their families receive counseling and referrals to others services they may need.

“We are here to make sure they get services as quickly as possible and as conveniently as possible,” Wolfe said.

One wing is dedicated to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Detective Jeremiah MacKay, who was slain in a gun battle with a rogue ex-Los Angeles Police officer in 2013. MacKay worked with the Sheriff’s Department and worked child abuse cases with the Children's Assessment Center.

There’s also a 1-year-old sheep dog named Mack who serves as the on-site therapy dog.

“Children come out of the interview rooms and then they see Mack and a little smile lights up on their faces,” Wolfe said.

Mack also helps brighten the mood of the Children’s Assessment Center staff members.

“Most people go through life not knowing all of the evils going on in this world,” Wolfe said.

In the past fiscal year, about 1,600 children have been seen at the San Bernardino County Children’s Assessment Center.

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