POCATELLO, Idaho - State lawmakers are discussing new legislation that could change the process through which child abuse cases are handled.
Bright Tomorrows is just one out of only five child advocacy centers throughout the entire state. The center's executive director Kathy Downes said she is seeing the number of cases they handle rising.
"There's not a lot of awareness, but we're busy," Downes said. "We typically have seven spots every week for interviewing young children and I would say the last three months we have been almost full."
Downes said in 2012 they conducted 196 child forensic interviews and 135 child counseling interviews. This year, the number has risen to 220 child forensic interviews, and the year has not even come to a close yet.
With this rising number and Bright Tomorrows being the only CAC to service all of southeastern Idaho, Downes said these centers are a crucial part of the response process. They are helping more kids feel comfortable enough to come forward to seek counseling from these centers.
Herein, lies the problem.
"Right now we are not recognized as one of those players in that response. So, what we're working on really hard right now is to just get CAC's in the language of the child abuse response laws in the state of Idaho. We're wanting that to become part of legislation," Downes said.
Senator Jim Guthrie (R) took the lead in drafting the amendments to the standing legislation surrounding the state's child abuse laws.
"What this will do, is put into definition what a child advocacy center is," Guthrie said. "Unfortunately, so many children are abused either physically or sexually, and we need to provide an opportunity where they can feel more relaxed and more inclined to express what actually happened."
Law enforcement, the Department of Health and Welfare, and prosecutors are the sole parties covered by the current legislation originally drafted in 1997.
The new amendments will add CAC's to that list.
One of the proposed amendments defines a CAC as: "an organization that adheres to national best practice standards established by the national membership and accrediting body for children's advocacy centers and that promotes a comprehensive and coordinated multidisciplinary team response to allegations of child abuse by maintaining a child-friendly facility at which appropriate services are provided. These services may include forensic interviews, forensic medical examinations, mental health services and other related victim services."
Guthrie noted the crucial role CAC's play in promoting the healing process for many kids who use this service.
"They certainly provide an opportunity for the interview process to be done in more of a gentle, benign setting rather than an official police station or sometimes hospital setting. So, there are a lot of advantages to what they do," Guthrie said.
The other CAC's in Idaho are: CARES St. Luke's in Boise, Nampa Family Justice Center in Nampa, CARES St. Luke's Magic Valley in Twin Falls, and Snake River Children's Advocacy Center in Idaho Falls.