Plans moving forward for child advocacy center to serve Osceola, Mecosta counties

BIG RAPIDS — Organizers are now in the fundraising stage of bringing a child advocacy center to the area.

Last year, officials from law enforcement, mental health, Child Protective Services, medical facilities and victim advocates began a development team, working toward a future child advocacy center to serve Mecosta, Osceola, Lake and Newaygo counties.

Child advocacy centers provide a child-friendly, safe and neutral location where children who are victims or witnesses to a crime can be interviewed, along with receive support and other services, such as referrals for mental health treatment or counseling.

Children who have been victims of severe physical and/or sexual abuse would be able to go to the child advocacy center for one interview, avoiding the need for the child to tell their story numerous times, which can be difficult, said Nicole Quinn, a children’s services supervisor for Mecosta/Osceola Department of Health and Human Services. Quinn also is on the development team for the future child advocacy center.

“We want to be able to coordinate together and in one space so there is one interview,” Quinn said. “This way the children avoid the trauma of being interviewed multiple times about some really painful experiences. Plus, conducting the one interview with someone specifically trained for this purpose leads to more reliable, truthful and accurate information.”

Members of the development team recently were able to visit the child advocacy center in Isabella County, which served 169 children just last year.

“What we witnessed was a more streamlined process and better collaboration,” Quinn said. “The center assures that children get their needs met, even post-conviction if that’s the outcome, providing therapy and advocacy.”

Open Arms Children’s Advocacy Center is the planned name for the local center, which will hopefully open in Big Rapids within the next six months, Quinn said.

As part of a partnership, the Big Rapids Housing Commission has agreed to donate space for the center to get things off the ground.

“The temporary location from the housing commission is extremely generous and will help us get off the ground until down the road when we can obtain and lease a space of our own,” she said.

Despite the donated location, there still are costs to get the space suitable for its purpose.

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Director Jim Eddinger, who also is on the development team, has been visiting local service groups to talk about the center and seek donations.

“We need to get enough money to apply to become a nonprofit, along with buying furniture, video cameras for interviews and other things for record management,” Eddinger said.

To really get the ball rolling, Eddinger estimates they need to raise between $10,000 and $12,000.

“That’s very reasonable to ask for to fund something that will contribute so much,” he said.

In Mecosta County alone, there were about 65 complaints last year that could have been handled with the help of the center, Eddinger said.

“That’s a lot of interviewing and a lot of cases that could be better served and handled in the most idea circumstances,” he said. “This could have such an impact and we are very excited about the future center. I feel confident it won’t be too much longer until we have the funding to be able to move to the next step.”

Until Open Arms Children’s Advocacy Center can obtain nonprofit status, Women’s Information Service, Inc. (WISE) is the fiduciary. Individuals looking to donate can make checks payable to WISE with a note/memo for the child advocacy center. Anyone looking for more information or groups interested in a presentation can contact Eddinger at (231) 527-0007 or Quinn at (231) 796-4300.