April 22, 2007 in Opinion

Our View: State should foot bill

The Spokesman-Review

Imagine, if you can stomach it, being a child who has been sexually abused. Then think of having to walk into the chaos of a hospital emergency room to be examined by a doctor and to tell your story to a steady stream of strangers, from the nurse, to the social worker, to the Child Protective Services caseworker, to the police officer, to the prosecuting attorney.

Years ago, a Spokane physician heard of an innovative idea in San Diego that replaced the emergency room, and that long stream of strangers, with a single center. There a child could tell the story once to a social worker while police and CPS investigators observed through one-way glass. A doctor could conduct the exam in a nearby room. And a staff member could refer the child and family to a therapist for ongoing counseling.

It was a remarkable new idea then, and it started at Spokane’s Deaconess Medical Center with an agency that is now named Partners with Families & Children: Spokane. Over the years, it has patched together funding, from federal grants that have ended and hospital money that hasn’t, from a bit of state and city money here and charity there.

It’s complicated because each public source of funds comes with its own set of rules. Few government programs are designed to support collaboration among agencies. Hence, their regulations often stand as barriers.

Imagine, if you’re a child, how much you would know or care about any of that. You’d want the questions to end and, most of all, for your life to feel normal again.

The center idea spread throughout the United States and Washington. The National Children’s Alliance has accredited seven centers in this state; five others are seeking accreditation. Research has shown this innovation reduces costs and improves outcomes for kids.

One study found sex abuse investigations cost 41 percent less in communities with these centers. Another showed the children were more likely to receive counseling referrals, police work and forensic medical exams.

The Washington Association of Children’s Advocacy Centers asked the Legislature for $3.6 million this year. Spokane’s center would have received $150,000, not quite half the cost of the sexual abuse services it provides.

The House and Senate budgets trimmed the original request to $1 million and $1.4 million, leaving about $43,000 for Spokane.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn today, so once again the agency must patch together money here and money there. Most of us would agree that wounded children need help to heal. But no one entity wants to step forward and commit to covering the costs.

The state of Washington could offer a sense of stability to these important programs. The amount requested is relatively small.

If you were the traumatized child, you certainly wouldn’t be thinking about the budgets of struggling non-profits. Unfortunately, neither do most adults.

Yet these are our kids, our business. Our government should pay the costs of helping them heal.

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