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Easing a Difficult Time : New Center for Abused Children Takes a Sensitive Approach

Times Staff Writer

The Rape Center at Santa Monica Hospital on Thursday launched a child abuse treatment program believed to be the first in the nation in which medical, law enforcement and child protective services are housed in one place to improve treatment of molestation victims and to heighten prosecution of offenders.

Stuart House will be a “one-stop center” where children will be given medical attention, psychiatric help and be interviewed by police and prosecutors, said Gail Abarbanel, center director.

Officials hailed the new program as a more sensitive way to deal with child victims, who number more than 25,000 in Los Angeles County each year. Traditionally, the justice system’s approach to child victims has been fragmented and traumatic, with children being shuffled from agency to agency and made to endure dozens of interviews, officials said.

Valuable Evidence Lost

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As a result, many legal proceedings collapsed when parents withdrew their children from cases. In other instances, valuable evidence was lost by untrained medical technicians or inept interviewers. Nationally, less than 10% of reported child abuse cases are prosecuted.

“It has been like a Frankenstein monster trying to deal out justice, but ending up trampling on the victim,” Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said at a press conference opening Stuart House. “This program is a chance to make the process more sensitive to the child.”

He said a full-time detective will be assigned there. Other staff members will include representatives of the district attorney’s office, Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Children’s Services, as well as medical professionals and psychiatric therapists. Treatment will be handled so that the child has to deal with only one person in each agency. More than 400 youngsters are expected to be served in the first year of the program, Abarbanel said. The program will serve children in the Western District of Los Angeles Superior Court, an area from the ocean east to La Cienega Boulevard and from Mulholland Drive south to Jefferson Boulevard.

The building is no sterile clinic. It was designed with children in mind, decorated with pastel paint, bean bag chairs, animal murals, neon lights adorned with polka dots and a play loft.

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The therapy rooms have rainbow wallpaper and play areas. When children arrive at the center, Abarbanel said, they will be interviewed in these rooms by police and a representative of the district attorney.

Children to Get Therapy

The rooms are equipped with observation mirrors that allow other professionals to watch the interviews, thus reducing the number of times the child is questioned. Children also will be given individual and group therapy.

The annual cost of the program is estimated at $600,000, officials said.

Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center donated the site for the program. The Stuart Foundations, set up by the founding family of Carnation Co. to support cooperative efforts by public and private agencies to help children, have underwritten major construction as well as administrative costs.

Kanner Associates and Janis Christen-Snyder donated architectural services and interior design. Lorimar Telepictures underwrote the cost of the medical clinic.


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