Valley Center for Children

By: Keith Jones Email
By: Keith Jones Email

Budget cuts may affect a center for children who find themselves in active investigations because they either witnessed a crime or need to report sexual abuse.

The Valley Children's Center services about 150 kids a year in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County. When a child comes to the center, they aren't put through multiple stressful interviews.

To put it in perspective, a child witnessed the murder on Knollwood Drive in Staunton a few months back, and instead of being interviewed several times, the child was interviewed once in a comfortable setting.

Aside from being the Center's Director, Grace Wernerray is the Lead forensic interviewer.

Pointing at a monitor in her office, she says, "You can see their facial expression, you can see the way they feel about things."

Captured by a hidden camera, investigators watch the screen intently. Children are referred to the center by law enforcement or Child Protective Services when they're part of an active investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse.

Wernerray says, "Often the child is the only witness to the crime and you have to gather the information from them in a way that's sensitive and neutral, so you don't insert your own information or leading questions that might tamper with that child's information or their story."

Augusta County Investigator Paul McCormick says, "It is child friendly. A police station or sheriff's office can be really imposing even to an adult, and here with the toys, the environment, they're relaxed."

He says it's a one on one interview, held just once. If cutbacks were to be made to the center, the child may be interviewed by law enforcement, social services, and other agencies multiple times, which officials say may further victimize the child.

Wernerray says, "This year, we will be facing cuts just like everyone else, and we face a cut probably that's about 25 percent of our budget."

Wernerray says they're looking to the community and localities for support, and they're also looking to increase their services to help more children tell their stories.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte presented the center tonight with $1,000 to help with anticipated budget cuts in July.


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