TYLER, Texas — The Children's Advocacy Center of Smith County expanded its services when the pandemic hit to not only help children in need, but the community as well.
With hospitals focused on COVID-19, the center's chief development officer, Deanna Sims, said the nonprofit partnered with the institutions to take over emergency medical exams.
"Emergency rooms were being designated for COVID patients, it was crowded and in many ways not safe for children that were going through a sexual assault exam," Sims said. "In addition, those exams take three or four hours."
The center has an exam suite, doctor, nurse practitioner and sexual assault nurse examiner overseeing the emergency medical exams. However, abuse can happen at any time of day, and security became a concern.
"It was important for us to hire security, but this was not anything we had in our budget this year," she said.
The Texas Bar Association has awarded the Children's Advocacy Center with a $7,500 grant to partner with its Medical Sexual Assault Exams project. The funding will be used to hire off-duty police officers to work as security guards when the need arises.
“Some people don't realize that the Children's Advocacy Center actually has child crime investigators from both the Tyler Police Department and the Smith County Sheriff's Office; they're embedded in our facility,” Sims explained. "This was a great opportunity for us to be able to hire people from those two agencies on their off-hours to do security detail for us."
Sims said the nonprofit has wanted to offer emergency medical exams since it began doing non-emergency ones in 2015 because it would benefit children to stay in one location that's child friendly.
Now that the service is in place, the center plans to continue performing emergency exams and work the costs for that as well as security guards into the next budget and fundraising campaigns.
“We're really pleased that we can be able to take care of all the children who need with just the full service for them without them ever having to go to the ER now,” said Sims. “If a child is physically hurt, of course, they're going to have to have those medical needs addressed probably either in the emergency room or in a doctor's office.”
The center is also looking into a larger facility to accommodate its needs. Sims explained their current building felt too small before the pandemic and even more so with extra health and safety measures in place.
"The medical exam suite will be a big part of that (new facility)," the chief development officer said. "We're going to have multiple medical exam rooms with showers, closet space, all kinds of things, washers and dryers and things to be able to take care of children in the best way possible.”
Children are sent to the nonprofit by a recommendation from law enforcement or Child Protective Services after experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse or witnessing a violent crime.
Emergency exams are to be conducted as quickly as possible, and require the collection of evidence after an assault. Police then receive the findings in all examinations to investigate for potential criminal aspects of the case.
To learn more about the Children's Advocacy Center and their mission, click here.