The Pleasanton City Council unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the Children’s Alliance of South Texas (CAST) with an annual donation of $5,000. The decision was part of the Oct. 19 regular meeting. CAST board member Kristie West gave a presentation on CAST, a Child Advocacy Center.
“Whenever 9-1-1 calls come in about child abuse, the numbers are routed to our center. We have a special person that is there specifically to read the report, help send it to the police and CPS, then we have meetings that we perform with these groups,” explained West. “So we are like a hub for the police departments, CPS and the District Attorney’s office. We also provide counseling and therapy for life for the victims,” said West.
The main CAST office is in Floresville and there is a satellite office in Cotulla. A new office will open in Jourdanton in November. The child is brought to the office, which is very child-friendly, then taken to a forensic interview room which is sound-proof and a professionally trained person sits down and talks to the child.
All of the evidence is pulled together and it is routed through into another room with CPS, the DA’s office and police. They are watching the forensic interview and gathering information to decide if it is true.
It is all recorded and taped, therefore the evidence is sound. If there is a need for indictment, nurses will perform the sexual assault evidence collection.
“Before they would have to go to the police department, then to CPS, then to the hospital. Now, we do all of that in our offices. It is very important for our communities to understand what we do,” West said.
She shared the total number of forensic interviews, which reflects when there is an allegation that they are going to record.
“Atascosa County is the highest number we have on all of these charts. So we did a total of 160 interviews from Atascosa County through 2016-17. I can tell you, and this is all of our five counties, we did 43 interviews last week just in the Floresville office. The week before we did 30. So it is something that hurts my heart to say we need it, but let me ask you one question- what would happen if we weren’t here?”
She also shared there are 97 cases that they are taking care of that are going to court in Atascosa County.
“We have completed 51 SANE exams, that is the sexual assault exams. When we open the new office in Jourdanton, we are going to partner with hospitals here to have that facility and have that capability to do it here,” West said.
The role of the community, she added is to remember that these CACs were established to take care of our kids.
“We want to make sure we keep our elected officials and all of our agencies involved in it. We want to encourage our community to own the child abuse issue, take responsibility for healing the child abuse in our counties.”
CAST’s mission is to provide a place where trauma ends, and healing and justice begin. All of the funds CAST was asking for the city council to match from Pleasanton will go to direct services for the children to start that process.
She also announced the CAST Comedy Night on Oct. 28 at the Pleasanton Civic Center. It will feature three comedians, food, silent auction and live auction.
Flores asked if any other municipalities in Atascosa County are participating. West said Pleasanton is the first one that has been approached. The new office will be in Jourdanton and they are donating the building over there. Next year she hopes to break down the specific Atascosa County statistics by town. They are working on approaching more cities, but it does take time.
“Their services directly affect us and assist our police department in all of the interviews that are done for these children,” said City Manager Johnny Huizar.
Wood commented that when he was growing up, you did not hear about child abuse very much.
“Something like your program is greatly needed. Not only in this area, but in the US and in the world,” said Wood.
West said they can thank the new District Attorney Audrey Louis for a lot of that.
“She is one of the co-founders that started this program because of the need that she was having getting cases to court.”
Before CAST the other problem was not having a child alter their story, as they can be easily influenced by adults.
CAST performs school education on how to handle an abuse case that comes into a school or even in to the police. They all work together in these Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings to get the evidence they need, while CAST takes care of the child’s need and path to healing.