Pottawatomie County Commissioners, during Monday’s meeting, discussed the status of the Child Advocacy Center, including an idea that could temporarily suspend services while rebuilding the program to better serve children.
The Child Advocacy Center (CAC), which is operated by District Attorney Allan Grubb’s office, provides services to assist children in cases involving child abuse or child sexual abuse.
During the meeting, District 1 Commissioners Melissa Dennis gave a statement about the harassment she said she has faced from a resident who questions her intentions with improving the CAC.
Dennis explained for the last several months she has worked hard to better understand the proper function and standards the CAC should meet to properly assist the children of the county who need help.
“I have observed dysfunction, disorganization and chaos, therefore it is my opinion, after conversations with numerous staff and with the professional men and women who are involved, that this is not an environment in which the children of our county are receiving the best possible services,” Dennis read from a statement.
Dennis explained she feels it might be in the best interest of the county to temporarily suspend the CAC and rebuild the program so the facility can once again properly serve the children of Pottawatomie County.
She said she is offended anyone would assume she and her fellow commissioners are only involved in rehabilitating the CAC to be re-elected into office.
“I want it noted that we didn’t chose the timing of this issue being dumped in our laps and that it is purely coincidental that election time is around the corner,” Dennis said. “I want to restate that the only goal is for the funds of the county to be used in a way that truly provides the best services to children.”
Following her statement, Dennis said the commissioners and fellow involved agencies need to decide the best course of action for the CAC going forward.
“I would like for us to step back and make the center inactive for some time — until we can with our funding, with the staff and with our partners — find out how we can get this thing built up to where it’s not the laughing stock of the state,” Dennis said.
District 2 Commissioner Randy Thomas questioned what would happen to children who need help from the CAC while it was temporarily closed.
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Dennis said she is visiting the Ponca City CAC this week and other outlets that provide these services to children and their families.
Dennis explained she learned through her education the past few months that the county can do a memorandum of understanding with an outside agency that could take the county’s non acute care cases.
District Attorney Grubb said the CAC is already doing that with someone and the facility is working on recruiting volunteer advocates.
However, Dennis said, even with these efforts, the CAC is behind on meeting its standards of proper function.
Dennis and Grubb continued talking on other possibilities to assist children who utilize the center and the challenges the county would face if the CAC and its services was temporarily suspended.
While she recognizes those hardships, Dennis said something must be done.
“For one, this mess has got to stop, and two, we’ve got to just get this back on the righ track,” she said as the meeting discussion continued.
Grubb said he feels the best way to get the CAC running as it should is to get a 501c3 non-profit that’s properly funded to run the facility.
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Tecumseh Police Chief J.R. Kidney, as a law enforcement officer in attendance of the county meeting, commented to commissioners that he also feels the CAC services should be suspended temporarily.
“Let us suspend the services; that way the integrity of that center and the confidentially of that center and everything remains intact,” Kidney said.
In sharing his thoughts, he recommended that commissioners stop the services, form a committee of qualified people who understand what a proper CAC is and then have everyone work together to determine the next course of action.
“Let’s fix our center and bring it back to what it was. Let’s take care of the children of Pottawatomie County and the people that are going to run it,” Kidney said.
Commissioner Thomas questioned once again where the children who utilize the CAC would go if services are suspended.
Kidney explained there are several agencies throughout Oklahoma that would help the children in the meantime and all Pott. County law enforcement agencies involved would do whatever they could to ensure these children receive the care they need.
During the meeting, Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth also agreed with Kidney’s suggestion.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a hardship for everybody but we have to fix this,” Booth said to commissioners. “That has to be done.”
Dennis said there are many factors that have led to the current state of the CAC, including its leadership.
“When it comes down to it, elected officials are responsible for our own offices and so I think it just has not probably been followed along like it should have been,” Dennis said.
Grubb said the Pott. County CAC is one of two such centers in the state run by a District Attorney’s office as the rest are run by a non-profit. And of the two run by a DA’s office, he said Pott. County’s is the only accredited one.
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“It’s hard. That’s why I say the non-profit structure is better for this type of center,” Grubb said.
He explained, however, there were difficulties for the center in the past when run by non-profits.
Dennis said while the CAC has a complicated history, she agrees it would be best to have it under the 501c3 model so it can be changed for the better.
The county became involved with the CAC several months ago after approving up to $400,000 in use tax money to cover a funding shortfall after the facility lost its usual grant funding. And now that the county is involved, Dennis said she and fellow commissioners want to get started on the next steps of improving the CAC.
Dennis also explained there is a concern that should the CAC continue to function as is, it could lose its accreditation, which is up for review in March of 2022.
Going forward, commissioners will take some time to discuss and form a more solid plan of improving the CAC and will put the issue back on the agenda for more discussion or action at a future meeting.
Check back for updates.