- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - When Sara Mann was a Grand Island police officer, she was good at dealing with children. She felt she was able to connect with them and reach them on their level.

Now she’s using that connection with children in her new job at the Central Nebraska Child Advocacy Center, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/1TY7P4Q ) reported.

Working with children 3 to 18, the Advocacy Center’s main job is interviewing young victims of physical abuse or sexual assault.

Since May 16, Mann has been the executive director of the Central Nebraska Child Advocacy Center, which is based in Grand Island. The center serves 10 counties in Central Nebraska. In addition to Hall, they are Clay, Garfield, Greeley, Hamilton, Howard, Merrick, Nuckolls, Webster and Wheeler counties.

The Advocacy Center benefits young victims by limiting the number of times a child is interviewed.

The Center’s slogan is “One Child, One Place, One Time.”

“What that means is we don’t want kids that have suffered abuse or neglect to have to tell their story over and over and over again to a bunch of different people,” Mann said.

The child is interviewed one time, at the Child Advocacy Center. Avoiding serial interviews prevents a child from being “revictimized” - having to live through the experience again.

Mann says she likes giving kids hope “at the worst time of their lives.” Children who’ve been the victim of abuse are not sure who to trust, she said.

The interviews are conducted by a forensic interviewer, who is trained in effective ways of talking to kids. “We don’t feed them information. It’s all open-ended questions. We let them tell us their story of what happened,” said Mann, who is a forensic interviewer herself.

Observing the interview in another room is someone from law enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services. One of those two groups must be present. Video and audio recordings are made of the interview.

In addition to children alleging physical abuse or sexual assault, the staff also interviews children who witnessed a violent crime, were in a drug-endangered environment or were victims of kidnapping.

The work begins when somebody makes a call to the Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline, which is 1-800-652-1999. The caller’s information is given to law enforcement and Health and Human Services. Some of the young people involved in those cases are brought to the Central Nebraska Child Advocacy Center.

Mann has been familiar with the Child Advocacy Center since it opened 15 years ago.

She started with the Grand Island Police Department in 1999. After five years as a patrol officer, she worked in criminal investigations for a year. She was an original investigator for the child abuse unit when it formed 11 years ago.

Mann, a 1995 graduate of Grand Island Senior High, worked for the police department for 16 and a half years. Her last day on the job was May 13.

Mann, 39, and her husband, Anthony, have three children: Abby, 24, Kensley, 9, and Aiden, 4. Anthony works for FedEx, driving to Des Moines and back five days a week.

The Child Advocacy Center has a physician and nurses on call. Among other things, nurses perform exams on kids who have been sexually abused. They look for signs of trauma or injury and collect such evidence as fibers, hair, blood and semen.

The physicians can provide additional medical care if needed.

Child Advocacy Center employees also conduct hair and nail follicle tests to determine if a child has been exposed to or ingested drugs.

The Child Advocacy Center, located at 2335 N. Webb Road, has four full-time employees, including Mann and the lead forensic interviewer. Another employee is the multidisciplinary team (MDT) coordinator. Nebraska law requires the group to come together and go over cases each month.

The other employee is a child and family services advocate, who does follow-up care with the family.

Mann likes helping kids and making them feel comfortable. “I feel like the Center’s friendly,” she said, adding that it’s colorful and equipped with toys. As the children tell their stories, making the experience less traumatic as possible “is important to me,” she said.

Walking into a police department, filled with “big, burly guys” in uniform and patrol cars outside, is “kind of scary” for kids, Mann said. “So to be able to come here and see the Center and the kid-friendly environment, I hope it just makes it easier for them to explain to us what happened, make them feel a little more comfortable.”

The Child Advocacy Center is a nonprofit organization. Services are offered to child victims and non-offending family members at no cost.

The Central Nebraska CAC is part of the Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, which is based in Omaha. The other centers are Project Harmony in Omaha, the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln, CAPstone in Scottsbluff, the Family Advocacy Network in Kearney, Northeast Nebraska Child Advocacy Center in Norfolk and Bridge of Hope Child Advocacy Center in North Platte.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the Central Nebraska CAC exists and that “we’re here to help families,” Mann said.

She’d like to see more people “understand what we do here and that we’re here to serve our community.”


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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