CARE Center signing

Executive Director of the CARE Center April Morefield speaks to guests at the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors chambers, Friday.

TAZEWELL, Va. — Agencies from Tazewell, Buchanan and Russell Counties signed a memorandum of understanding Friday to form a child friendly location to interview and work for victims of sexual assaults and abuse.

A Children’s Advocacy Center (Child Abuse Reporting and Enforcement Center of Southwest VA or CARE Center) is being created for the Southwest Virginia counties of Tazewell, Buchanan, and Russell. The CARE Center will partner with local police departments, local community service board for mental health care, local hospitals to provide sexual assault exams for children, and all local Department of Social Services to provide forensic exams to children at the center.

A brick home belonging to the First United Methodist Church Richlands is being renovated. The hope is to have the center in operation by early December, Executive Director April Morefield of the CARE Center told guests at the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors chambers in downtown Tazewell.

“A children’s advocacy center is a safe, child friendly, neutral location where a child can share their story of victimization, which is perhaps the worst story they will ever have to share,” Morefield said. “A trained forensic interviewer will work with the child at the center to help identify child sexual abuse and will work with law enforcement, DSS, and the commonwealth attorney’s office to help assist in any way possible. Through the CARE Center, the child will receive referrals for mental health care treatment at Cumberland Mountain Community Services and if needed, a sexual assault examination at Clinch Valley Medical Center and Russell County Medical Center. To date, there have been no pediatric sexual assault nurse examiners in our area.”

Approximately $200,000 in financing for the new center is being provided by the Elgin Children’s Foundation, Morefield stated. She also thank Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt for providing the project with inmates for renovations through the community work program.

Tim Rogers, the foundation’s executive director, told Tazewell and Buchanan County officials he had a question for them that most people cannot answer right away. What, according to Scripture, was the first question man ever asked God?

“The first question was, Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rogers said. “The answer to the question as we have interpreted it is absolutely yes. We have a responsibility to care for children hurting in our community. The foundation was created to help children break the cycle of poverty and live the best life they can.”

Having a CARE center will help local agencies have more access to state and federal funding they would not qualify for otherwise, Paul Phillips, the foundation’s general counsel, added. Agencies such as county sheriff’s offices often do not have the financial resources to do the job they want to do. 

Wanda Ostrander with the Virginia Chapter of Children’s Advocacy Centers said the Richlands center will be the 18th of its kind in Virginia; more than 800 centers exist across the nation. In the past, children and their families have had to travel more than an hour and a half and then wait for forensic interviews and medical services.

“Once the center opens, it will grow with leaps and bounds,” she said. “It will need community support from this day forward. I won’t be surprised if they grow and outgrow that space within five years. I just commend you all for being here today and being so supportive.”

Morefield said that with help for Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital, it will be possible to provide nurses’ training at both Clinch Valley Medical Center and Russell County Medical Center so they can receive both pediatric and adult SANE nurse certification. Both facilities will be providing trained nurses through their emergency departments for an on-call rotation for the CARE Center.

“Not only will this assist the child with the healing process, but the forensic medical data collected in these exams will help prosecution in convicting the offender,” she stated.

Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said he was in Russell County when officials there signed a memorandum of understand with officials there to help form the CARE Center. He said local work with the Elgin Foundation was a “perfect example” of how public and private nonprofit agencies can work together to improve a community’s quality of life.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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