This issue’s Celebrate Community spotlights a nonprofit organization, according to Executive Director Keith Ann Campbell, responsible for a 14 percent increase in conviction rates in child abuse cases, the Santa Rosa Kids’ House. Campbell said the child advocacy center works by centrally locating the state attorney’s office, medical examiner, Guardian Ad Litem, the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office, and therapy. With these various services at the SRKH, Campbell said a victim of child abuse only has to tell the story of abuse once and it’s recorded so the victim doesn’t have to repeat it to everyone who needs to hear it.
Campbell said, though the SRKH takes video testimonies, they’re not admissible in court, so a victim may still need to tell his or her story one more time. “A defendant still has the right to face the accuser,” she said. However, the original video testimony is so effective “many times defendants plea out,” she said. Campbell noted the conviction rate’s increase is also due to “a really good prosecutor. We’re lucky to have Stephanie Pace,” an assistant state attorney with an office at the facility.
While Campbell couldn’t share stories directly of families who needed SRKH services, she could do so without details. Campbell said a Gulf Breeze family has four children with four different cases and just came out of therapy in 2013 after being in for a year. Campbell said two of the children have jobs now, but a cousin in danger prompted the family’s mother to come to SRKH for help with supplies. SRKH provided and Campbell said she just received a voicemail within the last few days from the mother thanking the center through tears for all they’ve done.
Two services at the SRKH are victim advocacy and Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Campbell said the SRKH works closely with GAL. Denise Allen recently became a victim advocate at the SRKH and said she already volunteers for GAL. According to santarosakidshouse.com, the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation “provides court appointed special advocacy on behalf of children involved in the dependency court system.”
As a GAL volunteer, Allen said she follows victims who go into foster care and acts as the victim’s voice in court. She also makes sure children are visiting with their parents or keeps parents away depending on the situation. She said GAL makes sure the same volunteer stays with a victim despite whatever foster family may be taking care of the child. However, with three children of her own, Allen said she can usually only handle one case with GAL at a time.
A victim advocate, Campbell said, does not speak in court, and “supports the child through a criminal process.” Allen said, “My job (as a victim advocate) is to follow victims through the system and make the family as comfortable as possible.” She said she may also direct families to Florida Therapy Services either in Milton or at the Santa RosaServiceCenter in Navarre.
Santa RosaCounty has supported the SRKH in various ways since its opening in 2008. In October last year, Lowe’s Home Improvement selected the organization as one of its yearly Lowe’s Heroes recipients and installed shelving in a supply closet at the SRKH facility. Campbell said Lowe’s did the landscaping on the grounds the year before. Stonebrook Golf Club held its eighth annual golf tournament in May benefitting the SRKH. Local golf legend Boo Weekley chose the organization for the Always On Charity Challenge donating $10,000 in June. Most recently, Vernon Borders, owner of Sonshine Family Farms chose to honor the Kids’ House by including it in the design of the corn maze this year and said he’ll dedicate a portion of its proceeds to the organization.