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Child Advocacy Center building new facility

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When a child at Charleston Area Medical Center's Child Advocacy Center is being asked about possible sexual abuse, they can often see another child getting chemotherapy treatment at the Children's Infusion Center, which shares the same space.

Both centers use the same entrance from a hallway at Women and Children's Hospital. They share a medical examination room and a conference room. Sometimes, Maureen Runyon, who has worked at the center for 20 years, is interviewing a mother whose child was molested while a different mother is only a few feet away.

The team of physicians and social workers has interviewed and examined thousands of children in a 400-square-foot space since December 2004.

Now, because of an unfortunate increase in demand, the Child Advocacy Center is building its own space -- nearly five times the size of its current center.

The center is reaching out to the community to raise $250,000 for the new one-story facility that will stand next to the medical office building at Women and Children's.

"We've got three people working in an office that is very small and also serves as our observation area for when Child Protective Services or law enforcement is here. It's crazy how small it is," Runyon said. "We joke and say we're going to hang a hammock from the ceiling and put somebody up there next."

A child advocacy center is a one-stop shop for the evaluation and assessment of children who are thought to have been victims of child abuse, Runyon said.

The professionals coordinate their questions so that children are interviewed only once, and not repeatedly traumatized by retelling and reliving what they have suffered. 

When the Child Advocacy Center opened almost eight years ago, Runyon interviewed kids only one day per week. That grew to twice per week and now to the current Monday through Friday schedule when she interviews a child almost daily.

The center at Women and Children's Hospital is one of 18 such centers in the state and the only one located in a hospital.

While the center's primary focus is children who live in Kanawha County, the regional center does see kids regularly from eight counties. Last year, the Charleston center saw children from 32 counties -- more than any other center in the state -- since "we cannot and will not refuse to see any child," Runyon said.

What is so startling to the team is how many children have visited the center so far this year, she said. Nearly 340 children have sat on the small brown couch in the interview room. In 2011, 360 kids visited.

Women and Children's Hospital Vice President and Administrator Andrew Weber said it is necessary to have a center that can accommodate the "unfortunate demand that we experience." The center needs its own dedicated space, he said.

"We have to commingle these patients and their families sometimes with the oncology kids and their families and other general public in our facility. As you can imagine, it's an incredibly sensitive situation, and honestly it's not a set up that we prefer to have for the infusion center either," Weber said.

The new center will be a 2,200-square-foot building that will include at least one observation room, an exam room, a conference room, a waiting area, and two interview rooms.

They are planning for on-site parking, too. Hiring another therapist would also be helpful, Runyon said.

Weber said he would love to see the Child Advocacy Center have a brick exterior, but the current monetary goal is not priced for that.

Rachelle Beckner, senior development officer for the CAMC Foundation, said a couple of community members have showed interest in personally donating to the new building.

So far, the center has raised $20,000 through a recent gift from the Walmart Associate Choice Program. Store employees chose CAMC Women and Children's Hospital to receive the gift this year, and it will go toward the new facility, Beckner said.

Beckner said the hospital is now relying on the community's support to make the new center a reality. The Child Advocacy Center will consider naming options, too, she said.

For those who donate $500 or more, they will receive 50 percent of their gift in tax credits through the Neighborhood Investment Program. The NIP is a statewide program, through the state commerce department, that increases charitable giving to local nonprofit organizations.

The Child Advocacy Center at CAMC does not receive federal funding.

To donate to the new center, contact Beckner at 304-388-9863.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5


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