The statistics are more than grim: More than 3 million referrals of child maltreatment are received by state and local agencies each year — that's nearly six referrals every minute.
Those are national numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but local numbers also are troubling.
In 2012, Olmsted County received 1,632 reports regarding child safety or well-being. Of those, 612 reports were screened for concerns of abuse and neglect; 488 assessments or investigations were completed.
On Tuesday, area residents and officials got their first look at a facility that will bring all the services needed by victims and their families — medical and mental health providers, law enforcement, social services, victim services, attorneys, public health and more — to one location.
Mayo Clinic Child and Family Advocacy Center, at 2720 N. Broadway, was a vision four years in the making, said Dr. Daniel Broughton, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Children's Center.
He was the driving force, by all accounts, but only had one thought: Protecting children.
"This was designed not for us," Broughton said, "not for you, but for children and their families."
Dr. Chris Moir, also a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Children's Center, called the facility "a crucible for change. Child abuse and maltreatment is about taking care of kids and families," he said.
Abused children often have to talk about traumatic, embarrassing experiences of abuse again and again. Research shows that before the advent of child advocacy centers, children would have to retell what happened to them an average of 10 to 15 times — in school classrooms and offices, police stations and interrogation rooms, hospital emergency rooms, child protective services offices or in front of family members in their homes — in a process that often took months.
The center is designed to be the hub with all the necessary players in the same place, typically just 12 to 24 hours after a report is filed. It focuses on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of child abuse.
The victim will be interviewed by a trained professional in a room with a camera; others involved in the case will be in an adjoining room, watch the interview in real time. The interviewer will wear an earpiece, Broughton said, allowing for questions from the other experts without interruption.
"One person goes in and does the interview, and the rest of us sit back and support them," said Mark Ostrem, Olmsted County attorney. "We do the most child-friendly interview that we can, and we only do it one time."
The interviews are recorded and closely monitored; most will last between 20 and 90 minutes. While the child is being interviewed, other family members will have the opportunity to meet with advocates to discuss the process and available resources.
After the interview, the child will meet with a medical provider at the center to discuss medical care and concerns; if necessary, forensic evidence can be collected.
The center also will serve the surrounding regions, with a goal of expanding, as well as at Mayo Clinic Health System sites needing the services. For more information, call 293-3411.