Bill Lewis Center in Fort Wayne celebrates 20 years of service

Dr. Bill Lewis
Dr. Bill Lewis dedicated his life to the care and advocacy of children and was an early supporter of the CAC model. (Photo courtesy Dr. Bill Lewis Center for Children)

“I was moving from South Bend to Fort Wayne in 1995,” recalls Jan Lutz, who was a member of the Junior League in the late ’90s and early ’00s. The League in South Bend, in partnership with the Prosecutor’s Office and Memorial Hospital, had successfully developed The CASIE Center Child Advocacy Center. “When the prosecutor in St. Joseph County knew I was moving, he called Bob Gevers in Allen County and said, ‘I am sending you Jan Lutz. She is going to start a CAC for you.’”

It was not a given that Allen County’s new CAC would or should be designed to be a close cousin of The CASIE Center in South Bend. No one was even sure it would work. The CASIE Center’s successes came from close community relationships. Lutz wondered if such partnerships could be forged in Fort Wayne.

In fact, there was already a strong team of future MDT (multidisciplinary team) members who were exploring the CAC concept. That group had already visited the NCAC in Huntsville and other CACs in Indiana to get input on the various models. Jan Lutz and the Junior League provided the impetus needed to move forward.

“I remember the League general membership meeting where we talked with the members, and they voted to help immediately,” says Lutz. “We opened the CAC of Allen County with a partnership between the Junior League of Fort Wayne and the Prosecutor’s office,” recalls Lutz. A committed team of law enforcement officers, child protection workers, nurses, prosecutors, and others made the idea of a dedicated CAC a reality and one of the earliest CACs in Indiana.

With much fanfare, a $60,000 donation from the Junior League, and a team of talented individuals ready to help, the Allen County Child Advocacy Center was inaugurated on June 26, 2000. Almost immediately the caseload picked up, service improved, and so did outcomes for children in crisis. Some years later, the name was changed to the Dr. Bill Lewis Center for Children to honor the late Dr. Bill Lewis, a distinguished Fort Wayne neonatologist. He dedicated his life to the care and advocacy of children and was an early supporter of the CAC model.

“We asked the nurses from the Sexual Assault Treatment Center if they would consider being trained as SANE pediatric nurses, and they didn’t hesitate. They have been partners with the CAC since the inception, says Lutz. The partnership means kids are seen by professional nurses almost immediately, a practice put in place years before it became standard practice nationally.

Unlike other CAC models in the state, the Dr. Bill Lewis Center Board decided to approach SCAN, Inc. (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect), a nonprofit organization, to assist with the fiscal management of the Center. SCAN was able to handle the Center’s growing budget and staff and provide day-to-day leadership as needed. “The Board at the time was very aware of needed talent,” says Lutz. “They asked for SCAN to run the Center and manage the employees while they handled policy,” she says. SCAN has been involved ever since.

Lutz notes that current SCAN COO Trish Fox, Pat Smallwood, and Patty Harting deserve a lot of gratitude for their work. “Trish also acts as CAC program manager and a child forensic interviewer. Pat has been an advocate for children for 40 years, much of that time as a child forensic interviewer. The office manager and case coordinator, Patty Harting, runs the operation smoothly. She cares about children so much. She’s always getting training to better her service to children and families,” says Lutz.

Now, 20 years later, the Dr. Bill Lewis Center for Children provides about 800 forensic interviews annually and offers advocacy, mental health, and medical services through local partnerships. They provide service to one of Indiana’s largest geographic Department of Child Services regions. Satellite offices operate in two nearby counties and the original scope of the Center—to provide forensic interviews and support services for kids after an allegation of abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence—is unchanged.

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