I-Team 8

Boone County child abuse cases skyrocket as feds slash funds for advocacy center

LEBANON, Ind. (WISH) — Sylvia’s Child Advocacy Center is a buffer for children in traumatic situations, and it takes about $200,000 a year to keep the center open.

The Lebanon center’s website says it “provides forensic interviews and victim advocacy for child victims of informed abuse, neglect, maltreatment, and sexual assault.”

The lion’s share of the center’s funding has come from federal grants, and those grants are starting to dry up. 

Cases are not declining, though.

Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said, We have already doubled the number of case filed this year as compared to last year.”

On July 1, the prosecutor will have as many child exploitation and abuse cases as all of 2021. The number of cases has skyrocketed in the last six months. The prosecutor says people abusing children have not become more active, but the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown isolated kids in dangerous situations without help.

The Republican prosecutor said, “It is more severe because we have two things: One, children were with their abuser longer and they did not have the opportunity to cry out to talk to other people to have that contact with a teacher or another person in their lives they could confide in. In addition to that, we are seeing an increase in child exploitation, which is typically child pornography.”

In Boone County, children in traumatic situations interact with police and therapists at the center. The staff has a full caseload, and more come by day. Sylvia’s is a private agency funded by a series of private donations, and local, state and federal government grants.

Kassie Frazier, executive director of Sylvia’s, said the agency doesn’t “have a large pot of money so when they decided to redo the grant and we had to apply, they had to make cuts and, in those cuts, we lost all of our operating expenses, all of our supplies. We were only allocated money toward salaries.”

I-Team 8 learned 25% of the center’s overall budget has been cut.

Frazier says she has two part-time interviewers who work 20 hours a week with children in traumatic situations. She can’t extend the center’s hours although more children have come in for help.

The center’s executive director said, “They are talking about something that is very intimate and very secretive and to go talk to a police officer or an investigator about it and then have to go talk to a therapist and have to go talk to the Department of Child Services, kids are interviewed upwards of 10 times.”

Interviews with police and other law enforcement agencies are done in the center. Without Sylvia’s, the children in traumatic situations would have to deal directly with the police. The center provides a safe space for the children to tell their stories and get on paths to recovery.  

The Boone County Commissioners have allocated some money to the center.

The prosecutor is asking local police departments to increase contributions.

But, a reliable source of funding has not been secured for the remainder of 2022.