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County promises money for child advocacy center

A Garfield County task force hoping to open a children’s advocacy center in Glenwood Springs got some much needed support from the Garfield County Commissioners Monday.Members of the task force, including sheriff Lou Vallario, presented the plan and got a promise of $150,000 to purchase a modular building.”There is a need for a place where everyone involved in child and sexual abuse can come together … in a child-friendly setting,” Vallario said.Now children who are suspected victims of physical or sexual abuse can be brought to a variety of agencies.”We’re trying to create a place where experts can do a better job rather than taking a child around to scary agencies,” said Lauren Gueriera, a specially trained sexual assault exam nurse with Valley View Hospital.The River Bridge, as the center is dubbed, would bring all the usual agency representatives, such as social workers and law enforcement, together to conduct an investigation into alleged abuse. Vallario said the center will have only one employee to man phones and contact agencies when abuse is reported.Within the building will be rooms for interviews with children, a place for medical exams and hearing rooms. Vallario said the task force also hopes to have room for supervised visits between divorced parents and children when custody is disputed.Initial start up funds, which the group estimates will be about $111,000, and operating expenses will be raised in the community.”That’s my job,” said Joyce Bulifant-Perry, a former television actress and child advocate who lives in the valley. She has been instrumental in raising $14,000 for the center through the Carbondale/Aspen Glen Rotary Club.”A lot of the people in the community are for it,” she said. “A lot of children in the valley are being abused, and it crosses all economic and racial boundaries.”County health and human services director Lynn Renick expressed some reservation about staffing the center. She said she would consider placing some of her staff in the center, but also cautioned that investigations must follow established protocol.”My concern is that the department of social services has to take the lead in investigation and assessment. If it’s a third party (who has committed the assault) then law enforcement takes the lead,” she said. “I think it can be done.”Although supportive of the concept, the county commissioners also expressed their own misgivings.Commissioner Trési Houpt urged the county staff to find a modular with enough room for all the services proposed, and to make sure it is attractive.”I don’t want to see a trashy modular,” she said.She also questioned if one staff person would be enough to run the place.”I’m having a difficult time understanding how an administrative assistant can pull this off,” she said. With marketing and coordinating volunteers and the board of directors, it might be too much for one person, she pointed out.Houpt said in her experience on non-profit boards, “when things start lagging, you need someone who can pull it back together.”Commissioner Larry McCown also worried about the county’s liability for the building and whether or not it would have to pay for maintenance.”If it has Garfield County staff, it becomes a Garfield County building,” he said.”We want to minimize government (participation),” Vallario said. “This is more of a grassroots effort. Our intent is to raise funds to take care of all that.”The center is projected to open in January 2007.


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