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Griffin to press for family advocacy center

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GREENFIELD — 2013 will be the year Hancock County gets its own family advocacy center.

At least, that’s Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin’s goal.

Griffin, a U.S. Army Reservist, is currently deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but as soon as he returns in the spring, the advocacy center will top his priority list, he said this week.

Griffin’s deployment orders are up in April. He hopes to ramp up the planning by June 1 after a readjustment period.

Creating a welcoming environment where law enforcement and other local officials could interview victims – especially children – was one of Griffin’s campaign promises when he ran for prosecutor in 2010.

Now, the prosecutor said he is ready to start taking the steps to make that promise a reality.

Griffin was in contact with the Indiana Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance and also took a tour of Chaucie’s Place, a child advocacy center based in Carmel, prior to his deployment.

Chaucie’s Place, named for a child victim from Hamilton County who committed suicide after years of abuse, is serving as a model of what Griffin hopes to bring here – a comfortable environment that would foster communication between child victims and law enforcement officials.

“Rather than take them to the county jail (to be interviewed), ... what they would do instead is take them to this interview center,” he said. “It would have comfortable seating; it would have very small cameras and audio recoding equipment that would not be noticeable – by a child, at least.”

Greenfield Police Chief John Jester has utilized Chaucie’s Place while working with child victims and said he would like to see something similar available locally.

“That place was set up great for interviewing kids,” he said. “They had toys and stuff. We could go in, sit on the floor with them. When you’re interviewing these kids, you don’t want them to be scared to death.”

Griffin hopes an existing home might be donated to the cause.

The first step is to create a charitable organization that would oversee fundraising, he said.

Griffin said he is in the early staging of recruiting a board and is seeking interest from members of the public.

“We’re going to be looking for volunteers and fundraising resources,” he said.

Griffin said he expects funds for interview equipment would come from the prosecutor’s diversion and deferral fund.

Griffin also has Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd’s support.

Shepherd said cases that involve children are some of the most difficult he’s worked in his years as an officer.

“You see a kid that’s all upset, especially with a parent going off to jail or something like that. That’s probably something that grips my heart more than anything else in police work,” he said.

Shepherd expects the development of an advocacy center will be a collaborative effort among local officials.

“I think it’d be a great idea if we could work on something like that,” he said. “It’s just something that’s going to take really all the departments to be involved in."

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