- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Gulfport’s Child Abuse Prevention Center has shed all but two employees and may close by the end of July for lack of funding.

Harrison County District Attorney Joel Smith told the Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/1muAoZr) that the center’s most crucial program is forensic interviewing of abused children. He said the interviews are “a tremendous asset for us in providing jurors with a deeper insight into the mind of a child victim.”

Other agencies with employees trained in forensic interviewing would be able to step in for the short term, but Smith said the area needs a full-time interviewer.

The center also helps families who need housing or money and provides prevention services and parenting classes. It serves primarily Harrison and Jackson counties, but also 11 others.

“A lot of families here, they just don’t know where to start,” said former program director Keiana Lock, who has been forced to look for another job.

She said the need for the center’s services is greater than she expected when she started working there two years ago.

“Before I worked here I was like, not that many children on the coast get abused,” she said. “I thought it was like four or five a week but it’s way more than that.”

A combination of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the recession and decreasing federal grants with increasing matched-funds requirements have left the organization in dire straits. Its closure would mean fewer options for families suffering from abuse.

Jim Allen, a director, said the center needs at least $100,000 to employ two workers and an executive director through year’s end, and more than $200,000 to employ a full staff.

Allen said the center is taking donations, but also considering merging with another area nonprofit.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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