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Child advocacy center works to reduce turmoil in minors

Canadian County’s Child Abuse Response Team, more commonly known as CART House, will celebrate its 30th birthday Saturday.

The child advocacy center, which is the only one in the county, will have a dinner, drinks and dancing at its celebration that begins at 6 p.m. Canadian Square Event Center, located at 16939 E U.S. Highway 66, will host the party.

People can purchase tickets at carthouse30th.eventbrite.com. Each ticket is $30 and includes two drinks.

Purchases benefit CART House. The nonprofit took cuts from its grants because of COVID-19.

“The whole purpose of child advocacy centers is to reduce turmoil in children,” CART House Executive Director Katharine Carson said.

People interested in donating to CART House can provide items, like paper towels, snacks, journals and more. To donate, people are advised to call 405-422-3459 to set-up a drop off time with Carson. 

Carson has been the director since March. She started her career in social work in Oklahoma County.

Katharine Carson

The Oklahoma native has years of experience working with families who have children with special needs, as well.

As CART House is typically the first step in a child’s investigation, many youth are not in state custody. Children who are 3-17 are interviewed.

The initial interview with a child, who has been physically or sexually abused or has witnessed violence happens at CART House, with attorneys, law enforcement agencies and other professionals working together.

“Sometimes our children have been all that,” Carson said.

Carson said the agency collaboration is referred to as the multidisciplinary team.

CART House also provides interviews to surrounding counties, like Kingfisher and Blaine, and even, at times, out-of-state agencies. For instance, if a county child goes out of state to visit family and is harmed, an outside agency will ask CART House to conduct a courtesy interview to send to them.

Inside the houses is specialized technology to complete interviews.

“We’re trying to access the child’s long-term memory,” Carson said.

Children sit inside a room with a forensic interviewer, as officers and social workers listen in through one-sided glass. They can make question recommendations to the interviewer, as they all have earpieces.

Children are also aware of what is going on, as CART House officials explain the interview.

The interview is recorded and shared with agencies to prevent children from retelling their experience, thus reducing trauma.

“We try to help them feel safe and that they’re not in trouble,” Carson said.

Throughout the interview, snacks and water are provided to children. The houses’ decorations are also kept neutral to ensure children are calmed, Carson said.

Children can only come to CART House through law enforcement involvement or the state’s child welfare division.

Suspected or not, perpetrators are not allowed on the property.

The child advocacy movement started in 1989 in Alabama. Carson said she is proud of Canadian County for having its own center since 1991.

A group of El Reno citizens initially rented several houses across the street from the Canadian County Courthouse. Eventually, CART House will move near the Children’s Justice Center when they establish a permanent home.

In the early 90’s, an anonymous donor visited with a local attorney and later purchased three houses near the courthouse to give to CART House.

By its accreditation, CART House must see 75% of Canadian County’s children, who have been affected by abuse. On average, CART House serves about 275 children a year.

Many services also saw a rise in cases once students headed back to the classroom, Carson added, as they were around adults who they felt safe with.

The center is also committed to providing families the necessary resources they need, Carson said. CART House typically refers to Youth and Family Services, Inc. of El Reno for families who need rent assistance.

Although many children are already receiving counseling, the nonprofit also refers youth to area programs to obtain more services, like House of Healing and Savannah Station Therapeutic Riding.

“I think there is a myth in the public that thinks every time a child is harmed, somebody goes to jail and that’s not true at all,” Carson said. “It is very hard to press charges. It takes a lot of coordination.”

As evidence is required, Carson also said the forensic interviews are vital.

People who suspect a child is being abused or neglected are encouraged to call the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511, Canadian County Child Protective Services at 405-295-2050 or 911.

Under Oklahoma’s Title 10, people who have reasonable cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected, are required to report the incident. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense.

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