In 2018 in Real County, 21 children under the age of 18 received family preservation support from Child Protective Services. This number may be a small portion of the 82,888 children who received the same support across Texas, but in Real County, 21 children represents 3.6% of the total child population.
Child Advocacy Centers work to make the justice process as healthy as possible for alleged victims. “If the interview has to be done, it has to be done,” said Edward Gentry, president of the Bluebonnet Children’s Advocacy Center in Hondo. “So how do we make it less traumatic?” Bluebonnet trains its interviewers to question children in a non-leading manner that is not traumatic for the children.
“The forensic interviews are done in a way to validate who they are,” Gentry said. Once the interviewer establishes the child’s developmental level, she asks questions to help confirm the child’s story with as many facts as possible.
Bluebonnet also provides child advocates who offer in-house counseling and assistance with legal paperwork like the crime victim’s compensation application. They also work to keep the environment child-friendly, providing games, books, and stuffed animals. After the interview, if a book or animal has comforted the child during the experience, they are welcome to take it home with them.
“The more calm everything is, the more healing the family can experience,” Gentry said. “No one knows what the outcome will be when law enforcement gets involved. So we do anything we can to create that sense of calm.”