When the UND Northern Plains Children's Advocacy Center in Minot reorganized and modified its name last fall, most people likely never noticed.
But efforts in the region to serve children who have been victims of crime haven't gone unnoticed.
This month, the National Children's Advocacy Center will recognize Paula Bosh, who serves on the Minot center's multi-disciplinary team, at its annual conference March 22 to 25 in Huntsville, Ala. Bosh, a victim specialist with the FBI, was selected to receive the center's 2010 Outstanding Service Award for victim advocacy.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
UND Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center provides a child-friendly environment where children who have been victims of abuse can share their stories.
The local advocacy center will honor Bosh at an open house April 8, during Child Abuse Awareness Month, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Center for Family Medicine.
The center's nomination of Bosh for the award cited her relentless efforts to establish the Minot program.
"It's taken a long time to get where we are, but it's been worth it," Bosh said.
- About 68 percent of the 105 children served were female.
- More than three-quarters of the children were age 12 or younger.
- 41 percent of children were American Indian.
- The most common alleged offender was a parent, while an unknown offender was reported in less than 3 percent of cases.
- About 11 percent of alleged offenders were teenagers.
- 96 percent of cases involved alleged sexual abuse.
- 21 children received medical examinations.
Shortly after joining the FBI in 2003, Bosh took note of the travel distance to the nearest children's advocacy center in Bismarck for herself and victims. That led her to initiate a conversation about a potential satellite center in Minot.
Bosh said the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation was looking at the same thing at the time so a collaboration began that didn't result in a satellite office but eventually led to the current advocacy center in October 2007.
Forensic interviewers at the center are trained to conduct interviews with children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse or have witnessed crimes. Children also can undergo forensic medical examinations and receive or be referred with their families for follow-up therapy or other services.
"It's not just about the interview. It's about that whole process getting an interview done, getting an exam done and then doing the follow up," said Bosh, who credited the center's success to the support of the UND Center for Family Medicine and The Village Family Services Center. Her hope is that the center will grow through additional alliances with service and medical agencies in the community.
The Northern Plains Children's Advocacy Center began as a program of The Village. Funding restrictions with that arrangement led a center task force to restructure the operation in September 2009 under the University of North Dakota Center for Family Medicine, adding "UND" to the center's name. The university provides no funding, but the association with a medical clinic offers opportunities for medical reimbursements.
A community-based, non-profit program, the advocacy center relies solely on grants, donations, fundraising, and third party reimbursements from North Dakota Medicaid and Crime Victims Compensation. The center works closely with local law enforcement agencies, prosecution, child-protection agencies, mental health agencies, victim advocacy, prosecution and medical professionals.
Bosh's connection with the center comes through her work with Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold Indian Reservations.
Jeanne LeMay, a forensic interviewer at the center, said Bosh has earned the trust of the tribal communities.
"She established that she really does care about these kids. She cares about their culture," LeMay said.
Lindsay Stayton, the center's other forensic interviewer, said Bosh has enabled the center to work closely with tribal communities and to build a team with them to address issues of child abuse.
"She has just a really great way of being able to work with those families and connect with them on a level that can sometimes be difficult," Stayton said.
Bosh said the tribal people have made building relationships easy.
"I think I have great people on both reservations to work with," she said.
Bosh began working in victim advocacy as an intern with the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Minot. She continued to work with the center after earning her social work degree from Minot State University. She later worked with the Ward County State's Attorney's office as a victim advocate and in mental health services nearly eight years at North Central Human Service Center before joining the FBI. She is working online toward a master's degree in psychology from Walden University.
Her current job enables her to connect with victims early on in the legal process and follow those cases often to conclusion.
"I just like helping people get through that process and have as good of an experience as they can," she said. "They have already been traumatized by the crime. I like that victim advocacy, at all ends of the spectrum, is able to help victims not to be traumatized by the criminal justice system as well."
LeMay said the forensic interviews provided by the center spare child victims from repeat interviews. A more common scenario now is as soon as abuse is suspected, the child goes to the advocacy center to be interviewed by a forensic interviewer while a detective and social workers listen over a telecommunications system in a separate room. Detectives can discreetly communicate with the interviewer during questioning to help in getting the information needed for an investigation.
While the interviews don't replace a child's testimony in court, they become part of court evidence, and interviewers often testify regarding the interviews.
The center saw 95 cases in 2008, its first full year of operation. Last year, it recorded 105 cases, and so far this year, there already have been 29. LeMay said greater awareness of the center is leading to more referrals.
In 2009, about 45 percent of children interviewed at the Minot center didn't disclose any abuse, either because no abuse occurred or the children were not open to talking about it. Statistics show an offender most often is someone the child knows. Stayton said they are finding that teenagers often are accused, indicating that offenders, too, might be children who need help.
The center serves 12 counties. Other child advocacy centers exist in Bismarck, Grand Forks and Fargo.
The Minot center is working to obtain accreditation from the National Children's Alliance, which would open up more funding options, including potential state funding. Of the accreditation standards the Minot center must meet, its biggest challenge is facilities, LeMay said. The center will need to expand its space, which is difficult with limited funding.
Stayton said prevention is an area that will be getting more focus. The center already has done some educational work in providing speakers to service clubs. More talks are planned, including a visit to a Bottineau church to discuss how to recognize and address child abuse.
LeMay said the advocacy task force also is grateful to the community for its support. The center has received many donated quilts, blankets and stuffed animals to give to the children for their bravery in discussing a difficult topic. Other groups have donated items such as bags containing pajamas, hygiene items and books as well as office furniture for the center.