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The Big Yellow House helps children in trauma

Aug. 3, 2010

Sometimes it's the scars you cannot see that hurt the most.

For children in Waukesha County who have been victims of trauma, including physical, emotional and sexual assault, there is a local facility that serves those suffering from abusive experiences and offers help to cope with the aftermath of discovery.

Located in Waukesha at 726 N. East Ave., the Big Yellow House stands as a refuge for those victims. Its brightly colored rooms and child-centered focus offer a protective environment and ensures that appropriate services are readily available.

"The Big Yellow House houses both the CARE (Child Advocacy Resources and Empowerment) Center and Children's Place. Both focus on working with children that have suffered trauma," explained Director Faith Holley-Beal.

Getting past trauma

The CARE Center organizes the response of medical, legal, law enforcement and social services to ensure that child victims, ages 17 and under; do not have to re-live their trauma with multiple telling of the experience.

Holley-Beal said the Center's work encompasses "any kind of trauma (that) kids experience, crime that has happened, usually against the child, that law enforcement has to investigate. Or if a child has witnessed a crime, they can be brought here to be interviewed," she explained.

Recorded forensic interviews are a substantial part of the services offered at The CARE Center and are coordinated and conducted in a manner that avoids duplicate interviewing.

Those efforts were the result of a county task force recommendation to implement better methods of intervention that lessen the burden imposed by the system on child victims.

Team response

Children and families are referred to The CARE Center through the coordination of multiple agencies after an initial determination of abuse is made by law enforcement or social services.

Medical evaluations performed there collect evidence and documents injuries as part of the team response by a specially trained forensic pediatrician from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

Services provided at the CARE Center are free of charge; medical exams conducted by Children's Hospital are billed to the family's health insurance and the staff works to connect the families with Crime Victim Compensation to assist with payment of the exams as appropriate.

According to the website, victim support and advocacy are available as part of the team response at The CARE Center through coordination with the Women's Center. The Women's Center provides a family advocate to work with the non-offending parent.

The CARE Center is a multi-agency collaborative effort that includes the following partners: Family Service of Waukesha, the Child Protection Center of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, The Women's Center, Waukesha County Department of Health and Human Services, ProHealth Care, Children's Service Society of Wisconsin, the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office and local law enforcement.

Counseling children

The companion service offered, Children's Place, is a counseling center for traumatized children, located upstairs in The Big Yellow House and focuses on children ages 3-13 years of age.

There are other sources of childhood trauma that the Children's Place addresses, including medical emergencies, family or community disasters or witnessing violence in their families,

"It (counseling) could be (provided due to) a family in a car accident, house fire, dealing with the death of a parent or close family member," Holley-Beal added.

"One of the things we specialize in is reactive attachment disorder," she noted, a condition that occurs when children don't establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers, and the behavior that results from that.

One of a kind

Children's Place utilizes art therapy, puppets, sand art, and other age-appropriate tools to help children communicate.

"The Care Center served just under 300 children last year," Holley-Beal said.

"At Children's Place, because they do therapy, the number is under 200, because we're seeing the child 16-20 weeks in a row," she explained.

"We receive Medicare funding for Children's Place and we bill (patient's insurance). The majority of our clients have an income of $25,000 or less," Holley-Beal explained.

Although children seen at The CARE Center are referred to Children's Place, it is ultimately a parental decision and an insurance company may dictate a different provider, she noted.

The CARE Center staff is relatively small, with three fulltime staff, while The Children's Place has six therapists as well as administrative and support staff.

The Big Yellow House is the only facility in the county that assists victims by providing these services in one central location. The Children's Place has been providing treatment to children and families since 2004; The CARE Center opened in 2006.

The non-profit, community-based organization relies on grants and donations with United Way helping to fill in the gaps.

"It's a vital service in our community and it's important to support it with financial gifts," Holley-Beal said.

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