Funding cuts on the federal level could mean a decrease in services for abused and neglected children served by Kids' Harbor in the lake area.

Funding cuts on the federal level could mean a decrease in services for abused and neglected children served by Kids' Harbor in the lake area.

For the second consecutive year, President Barack Obama’s administration plans to cut federal funding for programs like Kids' Harbor. According to Director Cara Gerdiman, those cuts could mean the future of Kids' Harbor is now in question.

"Given the history of strong success in helping the most vulnerable children and Children’s Advocacy Centers’ cost-effectiveness, this is truly puzzling," Gerdiman said in a release issued this week. "As this issue will affect not only child victims of abuse, but the economic vitality of our community as a whole."

In an effort to remind members of Congress of the need for Kids' Harbor and other centers of its kind, Gerdiman is encouraging community members to write to federal representatives urging them to keep the funding for Child Advocacy Centers through supporting the funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act in the 2014 federal appropriations process.

"The services provided to those who need it the most are too important to leave on the line," she said. "I often think of those abused children in our community before Kids’ Harbor existed and how their lives turned out. Because of Kids’ Harbor, Inc., when a child comes forward today and asks for help I’m confident that child will be put on the path to hope and healing. And I’m calling on Congress to continue their vital support of the Victims of Child Abuse Act funding so that the 4,685 children seen at Kids’ Harbor since 2001 and the more than a quarter of a million abused children nationally who will seek help in 2014 are assured of getting it."

In 2012, 614 children who were allegedly abused walked through the door of Kids’ Harbor, Inc.

In the first six months of 2013, Kids’ Harbor, Inc. has already seen 294 children. Of those children, the majority of the allegations involve family members or someone the child knows.

Gerdiman said while it is shocking to think of those numbers, she is glad Kids' Harbor is here to help them find safety and healing while helping to hold their abusers accountable.

It hasn’t always been like this for children in the counties served by the agency.

Kids’ Harbor, Inc. was established in 2001 in Camden County. Later, the agency expanded to St. Robert.

"Between the two centers we provide services in Camden, Dent, Hickory, Laclede, Maries, Miller, Morgan, Phelps, Pulaski, Texas and other surrounding counties. Before the creation of this model, a child victim would have to recount their experiences to authorities many times, a continued traumatic experience for the child," Gerdiman said. "Often times in police stations or office buildings not designed for children. Children did not receive the medical care they needed and deserved and prosecution of child abuse was incredibly difficult, if charges were even filed at all."

Now abused children have access to the care and protection of through the child advocacy centers that are child-focused, facility-based programs and include representatives from many disciplines working together to effectively investigate, prosecute and treat child sexual abuse and severe physical child abuse.

Child advocacy centers, like Kids’ Harbor, are not only child-focused, but designed to create a sense of safety and security for all child victims.

With the involvement of Kids’ Harbor, Inc., the child victim needs to recount their experience only one time and is assured of receiving needed medical care and mental health treatment to heal. The goal and mission of every child advocacy center is to support the victims, their families and the larger community by providing a coordinated investigation and comprehensive response to each child victim.

Today, the nearly 800 Child Advocacy Centers throughout the United States are a successful and critical part of communities nationwide, she said.

In 2012, child advocacy centers helped more than 286,000 victims of child abuse. In addition, as a result of the coordinated response of the centers, communities with a center save on average $1,000 per child abuse case compared to those without a facility. according to Gerdiman.

Recognizing the value of these programs in preventing and intervening in child abuse, in 1990, The Victims of Child Abuse Act was authorized by Congress to provide funding to local child advocacy centers through the accrediting body, the National Children’s Alliance, and to Regional Child Advocacy Center programs for the training of professionals specializing in the intervention and prevention of child abuse. Because of wide bipartisan support these critical supports for abused children have become a nationwide network of care of which Kids' Harbor is a member.

"While Kids’ Harbor, inc. has deep support from our generous community, this federal funding has been critical to our success. This funding allows us to fund two part-time forensic interviewers who are highly trained in child development, talking to children, and asking appropriate questions of children," Gerdiman said. "The funding also provides training for our staff, law enforcement, Children’s Division Investigators, Prosecutors and our other team members to keep informed of the latest research and methods for investigating child abuse."