Little Flock, Ark. (KNWA) — The second a child walks into the Children’s Advocacy Center, an advocate like Letresa Sweetser is by his or her.
“My goal in greeting them is just to make them feel a little more comfortable. Let them know this is a safe place,” she said.
For Sweetser, it doesn’t matter what that family needs.
“If it’s holding their hand in court, if it’s providing lunch for them while waiting on a decision from a jury, whatever that child needs is what I do,” she said.
Advocates play an important role, staying on top of everything a family might go through related to the abuse.
“We know that DHS can’t be everywhere at once and we know that law enforcement are working hard and we get to work with these people every day and they are amazing people. But they are just humans. So we try to be there to fill those gaps and just make sure that nothing falls through the cracks,” Sweetser said.
Part of that process involves talking to Meaghan Ranz.
“Last year we saw just under a thousand children,” she said.
Ranz is a forensic interviewer for the CAC. It is a key position for finding out what happened to the child.
“I’m a neutral fact-finder essentially. So I help a child tell a story in a way that is neutral and non-leading,” she said.
Ranz has worked with children of all ages and backgrounds. Whether it is her, Sweetser or anyone else at the CAC, they are always focused on the child.
“We kind of pass our team back and forth and they come with me and I do the interview in that child-friendly way and then when I bring them out to the advocate, they can play and have a snack and just be encouraged,” Ranz said.
Last year, Ranz and the other forensic interviewers talked to 936 victims. Sweetser and the advocates worked with 977 children. They say those numbers are growing.