ANDERSON — In the three years it's been open, Kids Talk has helped change how child neglect and physical and sexual abuse cases in Madison County are investigated.
Kids Talk is an advocacy center that conducts specialized forensic interviews when the Department of Child Services receives reports about children who might be at risk. Since 2014, the agency has assisted more than 1,300 children.
"Not only did we want to be reactive" when the program began, said Becky Oldham, a manager and child advocate, "but a goal from the beginning was to get out in schools and work on prevention with kids.
"That's been really important to us, and we were really excited to launch that last year," she added.
Those school-based presentations have been effective in helping children distinguish good behavior from bad, according to follow-up surveys.
"After a program is presented, every child gets an option to say if they want to talk to somebody," Oldham said.
"We had 125 DCS reports come out of those presentations countywide, and we had hundreds of reports where kids came forward about things such as self harm or friends being suicidal, and we were able to refer those to guidance counselors," she added.
About 500 children received some kind of service as a result of the school presentations.
"We were able, I think, to head off a lot of things that would have gone a lot further, as far as sexual abuse is concerned," she added. "I think some children came forward when they were in the initial grooming phase, (which) did not go further because they were empowered by that presentation they heard."
Elwood Police Chief Jason Brizendine said Kids Talk has been an invaluable resource for law enforcement.
"Police just didn't know how to investigate certain things many years ago when I first started," the chief said. "Over the years, they've figured out that you need facilities like this who specialize in the interview techniques and how to deal with the children."
"This is a service I do not ever want to see leave," Brizendine said.