ROMNEY, W.Va. — Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney Dan James sees a need for a child advocacy center and asked the county commissioners for permission to transform the legal library and adjoining conference room at the Judicial Building into a children’s sex abuse case interview area.
Discussion and information was provided to the commissioners at their Tuesday public meeting by James; Amber Talley, program director for Sarah’s House Child Advocacy Center, Keyser; Charlie Parsons, chief judge, 22nd Circuit Court; and Judge Charles Carl.
“We have seen an increase of child abuse cases. In 2009 in Hampshire County, we had three cases. In 2013, we interviewed 17 children,” Talley said.
Talley explained how the two rooms would be used.
“One room, the interview room, would be child friendly. It would be fitted with a camera, microphone and a couple chairs and table,” Talley said.
The second room would be for observation where law enforcement, child protection service representatives and the prosecuting attorney would witness the interview.
Talley is a certified interviewer who interviews abused children following state and national protocol.
“Proper protocol allows the child to tell the story in their own words. We tell them it’s OK to tell their story,” Talley said.
CAC works with children from 3 to 17 years old.
“A lot of people have a misconception that a child will lie about what happened to them. We don’t see that in children when they are interviewed with proper protocol,” Talley said.
Talley told the county commissioners that $9,000 had already been approved for any realignment needed on the two rooms.
The funding is a subaward grant through the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network. Talley said it is more than enough to do what is needed.
Parsons said very few people use the law library.
“We have two rooms upstairs that could accommodate books from the library,” Parsons said.
Commission president Bob Hott asked if the state requires a law library — something that would have to researched.
In addition, Hott said he would have to check with the county building commission before any changes are made at the Judicial Building.
Carl asked if the two-room satellite center would be used as a regional center.
Talley said it would certainly be used for whomever needs it.
“In Mineral County we do interviews on children from Hardy, Grant and Hampshire County. We’d do whatever would be feasible,” Talley said.
Both James and Talley said it’s all about children and lessening the travel time to areas outside of Romney.
“Children don’t travel well when they are young. The last thing they want to do is sit down and talk to someone after a long trip,” Talley said.
James told the commissioners establishing a center in Romney is crucial.
“We are getting phone calls left and right about sex assault. Families are asking us what to do,” James said.
Having a CAC in Romney is James’ brainchild.
James said when he took his position Jan. 2, he realized the area was void of a multidisciplinary investigative support team.
The team includes the prosecuting attorney, a sex assault nurse examiner who specializes in forensic examinations, a child advocacy representative and either a state trooper or sheriff’s deputy.
James said Romney has Betty Fisher, who is a SANE nurse from Winchester (Va.) Medical Center.
“We have Amber Talley, child advocacy from Sarah’s House, and Sgt. Jamie Carter, who will be attending the Finding Words course in Charleston Oct. 7-11 for certification through the Prosecuting Attorney Institute,” James said.
Parsons and Carl said they would take some measurements of the rooms at the Judicial Building, discuss the pros and cons, and have an answer no later than Sept. 10.
Talley said she would order a camera, microphone and recording equipment and could begin transforming the rooms right away once the center is approved.
“We don’t have a single child advocacy center in the entire 22nd district,” James said.
“Our children deserve better.”