State representatives tour area child advocacy center

By Emilee Nielsen • Last Updated 12:04 pm on Monday, May 01, 2017

Montcalm County Prosecuting Attorney Andrea Krause, Ionia County Prosecuting Attorney and I/M SAFE CAC Vice President Kyle Butler, Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams, Ionia County Intermediate School District Superintendent for Special Education and CAC Board Secretary Jim Loser, Mary Ellen Clery, Esther Combs, Tim Hemenway, Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller, and Director of the Department of Health and Human Services Michelle Seigo toured the I/M SAFE CAC facility on S. Sheridan Road (M-66) Friday morning. — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

FENWICK — State legislators on Friday toured a local facility focused on helping children tell their stories.

Lawmakers including 70th District State Rep. Jim Lower, 87th District State Rep. Julie Calley and State Sen. Judy Emmons visited the Ionia/Montcalm Secure and Friendly Environment (I/M SAFE) Child Advocacy Center (CAC) at 10260 S. Sheridan Road (M-66).

I/M SAFE Board President and Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause led board members, legislators, Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller and Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams on a tour of the facility, which is equipped with a common area, an interview room and an observation area where investigative parties can monitor interviews.

I/M SAFE moved into the former H.O. Steele building and opened its doors in March 2015. More than 550 interviews have been conducted since that time

“The (Intermediate School District) for Montcalm has been a great partner for us to give us this space at very reasonable rental rates,” Krause said.

To promote a comforting and welcoming atmosphere, the walls are covered in murals created by local artist Debbie Bell. All the furniture, toys, coloring books, utensils and movies were obtained through donations, including a large flat-screen TV given as a donation last Christmas.

Those who conduct interviews at the facility are not necessarily law enforcement officers but are forensic interviewers trained to conduct conversations with children about an event or events those children may have witnessed or experienced. There’s also a room for forensic interviewers to meet with the families of the children they interview.

Krause said the center was created to reduce the trauma to victims of sexual abuse and physical abuse.

“The one interview concept, not the multiple interviews with every agency trying to interview that same child and continuing to traumatize them over and over,” she said. “By bringing them to the CAC, we’ve done that. All the parties work together; law enforcement, DHS (Department of Human Services), mental health, medical all work together to make it as easy as possible.”

Krause said board members hope in the future to have a counselor and a medical professional onsite for a smoother continuum of care.

Ionia County Prosecuting Attorney and CAC Vice President Kyle Butler explains the interview monitoring room at the I/M SAFE CAC building Friday morning to 87th District State Rep. Julie Calley and 70th District State Rep. Jim Lower.

During the tour, Williams asked why a separate interviewer conducts forensic interviews with children as opposed to a law enforcement officer.

“You have to have interviews who have forensic training,” Krause explained. “It’s important to have a neutral, unbiased person in there. There are certain ways to conduct an interview. You want to let the interview flow from the child. We have to show … that law enforcement didn’t lead this child (in court hearings). We want them to tell us what happened.”

Krause also noted the possible intimidation factor of a child having a person in uniform asking them questions.

Esther Combs, an employee of the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, talked about the cyclical nature of abuse and how often an abuser had been abused at one time in their life before perpetrating abusive acts on someone else.

“Having this awareness, talking about trauma, talking about adverse childhood experiences as a county, two counties together, is the only way we are going to stop this,” Combs said. “Oftentimes it really is about that awareness of that’s not supposed to happen; that’s not typical child play.”

Calley thanked the board members, noting, “Not all of us can do what you do.”

“To see the depths of society… I’m sure it’s the victims that continue your motivation. Thank you for standing up for them, all of you,” she said.

Visit or search for “IM SAFE Child Advocacy Center” on Facebook for more information.

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