In Southwest Indiana, a multi-jurisdiction coalition comes together to tell children, “We care”

Some of Indiana’s most scenic and gentle hills roll along winding 2-lane highways and gravel roads between Evansville, Ind. and the Louisville, Ky. metro area. In those rural counties, maltreatment cases exist like they do in cities, but the solutions to those challenges are amplified by that geography.

In the middle of it sits Tammy Lampert, a southern Hoosier with all the friendliness and southern twang you would expect. But who, even after two years on the job, still laughs about being hired. “When I took this job I didn’t even know we had an organization like this in our community.” That organization is SWICACC, the Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition, commonly pronounced “Swy-cack”.

A coalition is putting it lightly. With Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Martin, Orange, Perry, and Spencer Counties all part of the coalition area, they collectively combine to a land mass that’s over 2,800 square miles, or 400 square miles larger than the State of Delaware. Some 156,000 people call the area home.

Unemployment rates range from 3% to 6%. Some households don’t have running water. Illiteracy is high in stubborn clusters. Government tax collections are low from low land values. Yet elsewhere there are charming tourist-farms and homesteads and robust manufacturing that’s bringing increasing cultural diversity that has required Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) members to learn about new cultural norms and languages.

To combat that geography and hundreds of miles of countryside, SWICACC operates out of five locations used as-needed instead of a typical Child Advocacy Center operating daily. “Our five stationary sites are developed to be comfortable to their community. One site may be in a suite in a building along a main street, another is in a house in a much more rural setting in another county. But for each community we make sure the kids are comfortable with that.”

Those five sites are located in Jasper, Washington, Milltown, Rockport and Tell City. “We’re so blessed. Our five sites are donated spaces from the community. SWICACC takes care of everything inside the site. We’re blessed because much of our furniture has been donated, too, thanks to several nearby furniture factories.”

Grant Reward for Daviess County
The Arthur W. Perdue Foundation awarded grant funds to assist in purchasing equipment for the Daviess County forensic interview site.

Because travel is often lengthy and expensive for families, SWICACC is prepared with a mobile camera and recording setup that gets connected at a variety of places, like schools, hospitals, or other community settings.

Lampert says there’s not a county in this region that would be able to sustain a fully-staffed CAC like other Indiana communities operate. The demand isn’t quite that high because of low population density, and the costs are often too much for local governments to cover on their own. “It’s only with 7 counties pulling together as a team that we can provide these services,” she says. “Without this, the reality is we’d be forced to talk to our kids in county jails or DCS offices.”

“It’s only with 7 counties pulling together as a team that we can provide these services”

SWICACC was born out of County Prosecutors in the area seeking child testimony for court cases about seven years ago. With no CACs in the region, people were taking long trips to Evansville or Bloomington, Indiana. For some that meant a 90 minute, 100-mile journey. This goes along with the child-first principle,” she continues. “The team really does strive to do what’s in the best interest of the child. We talk about how working in an MDT format saves time and money to provide victim advocacy to not miss something, and partnering agencies provide medical/mental health and victim support services.  I’m always thankful for the help and invaluable resources we get from the Indiana Chapter and other CACs around Indiana, too.”

There are other factors that separate this region from others in Indiana and the US. “We’ve seen a big rise in heroin use here. That was not a drug of choice just two years ago, and now we hear about it every day.” Meth use is still painfully high across the region, too. Law enforcement patrol lengthy highways and work day-and-night to catch heroin and narcotics bound for Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis, and Cincinnati that often get dumped off here first.

Because of these larger drug problems, Lampert credits MDT members on adapting quickly. “Our law enforcement and the Department of Child Services have really opened up to the idea of us doing more neglect, witness, and mental abuse interviews. We’re asking ourselves what other kind of damage has been done to these kids?”

Sharing a border with Kentucky, Lampert is quick to point out that while everyone’s always aware of their jurisdiction, there’s never been a problem in collaborating with other state and local agencies in Kentucky or elsewhere. This child-first thinking has served SWICACC well when, as Lampert states, “We had a child who lived in a residence in Kentucky, but the allegation of maltreatment happened in Indiana. We travelled to Kentucky to conduct the interview with our mobile unit.” There, caseworkers in Kentucky worked toward a resolution.

While caseload is growing, SWICACC is growing to meet the demand that was always there. “Six years ago there were maybe 90 interviews conducted. Last year we did 280 as the teams are continually finding new ways to work together.”

Residents may face a variety of issues in the area, but Lampert is optimistic that change is happening. “I still think the CAC movement is so young we may not be seeing all the benefits of it yet,” she says.

“I worked in corrections before I worked here,” says Lampert with a sigh of a heavy heart, “When I was in corrections I saw the direct correlation of criminal behavior and substance abuse. I saw adults that were abused as children and they didn’t tell someone. They felt as if no one cared about them.”

Today SWICACC is working to get ahead of this problem. “We need to do something positive earlier so they can start the healing process earlier so they don’t end up in our jails. Kids and families need to know we care about them. I firmly believe that.”

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