State senator tapped to help fund center

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published November 22, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 21, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.
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— When local police or state human-services-agency personnel are told of an incident of child abuse — action is taken, and the suspected abuser is held and possibly charged. Then comes an investigation, and it is time for the abused child to tell his or her story to the authorities.

That can be a traumatic time for a child who has already been through enough, said state Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia.

“Imagine having to tell the most horrible thing that ever happened to you, and then having to tell it over and over again — to the police, to investigators, to medical personnel, to social-services people, on and on,” he said. “It brings chills up my neck to think about it.”

To help prevent a child from having that kind of experience, several years ago, Malone sponsored legislation that authorized the establishment of what was termed “child-focused and children-friendly” safety centers for the

investigation of physical or sexual abuse of children in Arkansas.

A child safety center is a place for abused children to talk with a forensic interviewer who is specifically trained to talk with the children about what has happened to them. The results of that interview can then be used by law-enforcement investigators, prosecutors and child-welfare specialists to follow through on the case and provide help.

“We have changed the culture in Arkansas about abused and neglected children over the last several years,” Malone said in an earlier interview. “It used to be that the Department of Human Services focused on the reunification of the family, and now their priority is what is best for the child.”

Since the bill was passed, 13 child safety centers have been built in the state. A board of directors was formed in March to establish a new child safety center in Arkadelphia. On Nov. 9, it was announced that Malone will lead the fundraising effort for the Clark County Child Safety Center.

“I applaud Sen. Malone’s compassion and vision in bringing such a great resource to Arkadelphia,” said Rex Horne, president of Ouachita Baptist University and co-chairman of the board of the safety center.

“There is nothing more precious entrusted to families and communities than our children,” he said. “We have a responsibility before God to care for, protect and help the children of our community.”

Malone, whose wife, Donna, is a member of the board, called his advocacy of the child safety center “perhaps the most important thing” he has ever done. An annual award presented by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas is named the Percy Malone Child Protection Award, and he was the first recipient of the honor in 2010.

“The board of directors is elated to announce that Sen. Malone will serve as chair of the fundraising committee for the center,” said Lewis Shepherd, vice president for student and external affairs at Henderson State University and the other co-chairman of the safety center board. “[The senator’s] contacts, influence and commitment to this project will be a tremendous benefit as we establish a center to serve the needs of Clark County and our neighbors around us.”

The Arkadelphia center will serve children in Clark, Dallas, Ouachita and Nevada counties,” said Melissa Shell, state chapter coordinator for the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.

“The closest one is now in Hot Springs,” Shell said. “The goal is that no child should be more than an hour from a center in the state.”

The CAC chapter has been mentoring the group and will continue to help through the organization’s first year, Shell said. Some funding will be available from the national children’s advocacy organization.

State funds are also available for creating the center, from money collected by a tax on beer purchases, passed in 2007. However, the board members said the center must have the support of residents in the region to make the center a reality.

“I know the community will want to be a part of establishing this center,” Horne said.

For more information, contact the Clark County Child Safety Center at P.O. Box 292, Arkadelphia, AR 71923.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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