Despite losing funding in January due to an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, work continues on projects at Garfield County Child Advocacy Council.
Executive Director Carole Wade said the organization still is working on a project to allow children who are victims to testify in court from the Child Abuse Response Education campus via video connection. The state high court ruled in January the funding of non-judicial programs through court fees was unconstitutional, leaving some organizations and programs scrambling to replace the lost funding.
Wade said she and District Judge Dennis Hladik discussed what the council could do, and Hladik suggested a system like the one used in court when inmates appear via video from the county jail.
Hladik said the idea for the system stemmed from a case in which children were going to testify against their accuser. He said the children had a right not to testify in court with their accuser present, but the defendant had a right to face his accusers.
“I was faced with this problem of how was I going to accomplish that and satisfy both constitutional goals of those involved,” he said.
The judge arranged to have the children testify in court and be recorded, with the defendant sitting in his office and watching the video feed. Period breaks would be taken for the defendant to speak with his attorney.
However, the case was resolved before trial and the system was not tested.
From that process, Wade said, was born the idea of video testimony from the Child Advocacy campus.
“If it will help a kid from going into court to keep them from being traumatized again, it’s worth it,” she said. “Children can sit in this room here and testify in court.”
Wade said when a child testifies using the system, attorneys for the prosecution and defense will be present in the room.
“This is going to traumatic for kids,” Wade said. The room provides a comfortable setting for children and keeps them from the stresses of testifying in court.
She said child abuse cases often are hard to prosecute, and having an interview conducted with a victim can increase the likelihood of a conviction.
“Part of child abuse cases involve secrecy,” she said, adding children often are told by abusers to lie or not mention what happened to others.
She said the council received a small grant for the furnishings in the room, and Security National Bank donated $8,500. A T-1 line has been installed to connect the room with the Garfield County Courthouse system.
Wade said the PolyComm system is what most councils are moving toward, and when others are equipped the same it can help the centers.
“It’s going to help us tremendously,” Wade said.
The council’s funding must be replaced to continue offering services to northwest Oklahoma, she said.
“I know our legislators are doing everything they can to restore our funding,” Wade said. “I think we’ve done everything we can.”
She said Sen. Patrick Anderson and Reps. Mike Jackson and John Enns have been working this legislative session to get funding for Child Advocacy Council offices restored across the state.
“Our legislators have been very supportive and have done everything they can to move this forward,” Wade said.
She said the organization’s board of directors has been working on ideas to restore or replace the funds lost due to the court ruling.
“I think we have one of the best board of directors imaginable,” Wade said. “People are really into helping children.”
Garfield County Child Advocacy Council is a United Way participating agency.