NWACC kicks off child abuse center campaign

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 132 views 

BENTONVILLE — The dream of building a state-of-the-art center to train professionals to recognize and stop child abuse is a step closer to reality, said Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center, a nonprofit organization working to end child abuse.

“Far better than a dream is a dream fulfilled,” Vieth said Friday morning (Feb. 24). “To actually be here and to see several hundred thousand dollars come forth — great things are going to happen.”

The Northwest Arkansas Community College held a campaign announcement for the center Friday. The college hopes to raise $3.25 million in the next seven months for a training center that educates people dealing with child abuse, including prosecutors, teachers, police, forensic interviewers and caseworkers, according to a news release.

So far, the college has raised about $614,000, including $575,000 in donations that were presented Friday morning during the campaign announcement, said Amy Benincosa, the national training center development coordinator.

At least 50 state officials, community leaders and child advocates gathered at the Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies where Walmart Foundation Senior Manager Karen Parker presented an oversized check for $500,000 to the college. The donation was the “lead gift,” according to a news release.

“We so value the people who train those who advocate for children,” Parker said.

Other donors Friday included The Nabholz Family Charitable Foundation, $50,000, and from Vicki and Mel Redman, $25,000.

The money will go to renovate the former Highlands Oncology Clinic building, which the college’s foundation owns, and turn it into the Southern Regional Center of the national training center, Benincosa said.

The local center, which will cover a 16-state region, is meant to play a role in ending child abuse, Vieth said.

“When you think of the facility, I want you to think less about the building and more about what the building represents — it represents hope,” Vieth said. “The center represents hope that now abused children can receive justice.”

Already, architects are working on a facility plan, Benincosa said. If everything goes smoothly, including the fundraising, the center could open in 2014, Benincosa said.

Vieth said the Arkansas center is part of a national push to address and prevent child abuse. He said many professionals go into their fields without knowing how to handle child abuse cases. As a young prosecutor, Vieth said he made mistakes that ended up hurting children. That needs to stop, he said.

In Arkansas, the number of child maltreatment cases found to be true statewide rose from 7,831 in fiscal 2010 to 8,573 in fiscal 2011, according to a Arkansas Department of Human Services report released this past October. In the top four counties of Northwest Arkansas — Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties — the state found 1,147 true cases of maltreatment last fiscal year.

Child abuse in Arkansas has caught the attention of several state representatives who plan to pool General Improvement Funds to help furnish and equip the regional center, according to a news release.

Most people aren’t aware of the difficulties abused children face, said Rep. Tim Summers, R-Bentonville, who is a leader in the effort fund the center.

“These are not ‘Leave it to Beaver’ situations,” he said. “It’s sad, and it’s tragic.”

Training is essential for stopping the abuse, Summers said.

The 16,534-square-foot center will be equipped with a mock courtroom, staged residence areas, interactive video and classrooms and training space, according to documents provided by the college.

Since the community college began offering courses about two years ago, about 250 people have trained at the Bentonville college, but that does not include students in the Child Advocacy Studies, said Stephanie Smith, regional director of the national training center. More people have gone through onsite training or attended online lectures, she said.

Once the center is open, Smith expects to train about 600 people a year, she said.

Fayetteville Detective David Williams, who attended a national training center course in 2007, said communities, lawmakers and agencies across the region are ready to act together to fight child maltreatment. That makes the center timely and vital for educating people to spot and prevent child abuse, he said.

“People are standing shoulder to shoulder ready to advance,” Williams said. “It’s not just about a well-furnished classroom, it’s about the commitment…to end child abuse forever.”