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Scott City woman recognized for victim advocacy

By ANGIE HAFLICH

Special to The Hays Daily News

SCOTT CITY -- Working with sexually abused children is extremely challenging and rewarding for Kelly Robbins, director of the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center in Scott City. In addition to the fulfillment she gets from her job, the National Children's Advocacy Center recently presented her with the Outstanding Service Award in Victim Advocacy for her efforts in serving rural communities.

"I was shocked and quite honored, first of all, for my staff to think that highly of me and nominate me and then to be picked nationally, wow. As I said when I accepted the award, 'I was really shocked because I can't imagine getting an award for doing a job that you love,' " Robbins said.

The WKCAC works with police and prosecutors to conduct forensic interviews with children who have been sexually abused.

"The CAC movement brings all of those groups together to help with the investigation by working as multidisciplinary teams," Robbins said. "Those groups work for the child, which results in better outcomes for the kids (and) better outcomes on the cases."

Robbins received the award primarily for the implementation and utilization of three mobile units to overcome geographical barriers in serving victims.

"In a lot of the small communities, they don't have that specialized treatment, especially for the sexual abuse treatment," Robbins said.

In addition to satellite offices in Sublette and Colby, the mobile CACs allow personnel to provide medical treatment and therapy, as well as child-friendly forensic interview rooms and MDT meeting rooms for cases in which families have transportation issues or reservations about the investigation process.

In October, the WKCAC, which serves 29 counties in western Kansas, was awarded with a $160,000 tax credit grant, which the organization used to purchase a third mobile unit dedicated to medical exams and therapy, freeing up the other two for forensic interviews.

Robbins said therapy is an important aspect of what they do because victims of sexual abuse are affected their entire lives.

"What we see is that this is a lifetime sentence for them. It will be with them the rest of their lives. I also see adults and I see the devastation it does by not starting that healing process early on," Robbins said. "So we have to make it where it's easy access because kids want the help, but to take them out of school and have to drive somewhere or something like that -- the parents can't (always) do that."

She said they implemented the mobile units after observing the way a mobile CAC in Flagstaff, Ariz., accentuated the services provided to sexual abuse victims on reservations.

Since WKCAC began using its first mobile CAC in 2007, Robbins said they have shown them at other CAC facilities and that several more states have begun utilizing them. She added that she had several people ask about the mobile units after receiving her award at the 29th Annual Symposium on Child Abuse held in Huntsville, Ala., March 18-21, where approximately 1,000 child abuse professionals from 46 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Jamaica, Sweden, and China were in attendance.

"There's a lot of people out there interested in that mobile unit. I had a guy from Ontario, Canada, come up and ask me about. I had gotten calls from British Columbia, Canada, when they heard about our mobile unit. There are a lot of rural communities out there," she said. "The symposium was a great showcase for that."

In recognizing Robbins, NCAC Executive Director Chris Newlin said Robbins understands that while it can be difficult to coordinate all the moving pieces of child sexual abuse investigations, she believes in the value of the CAC model and that it provides the best possible outcome for the children and families involved.

Robbins said the WKCAC was involved in about 280 cases of child sexual abuse in 2012.

"And in one month this year, we had 47 cases, which usually in a quarter, we have maybe 60 or 70 and we had that many in just one month," she said. "So definitely the need is still growing."

While the work is difficult, Robbins said working to help the kids through the trauma of sexual abuse makes it all worth it.

"It really is about the kids," she said.