The atmosphere at the Children's Assessment Center off Kirby is so cheerful, that a person might find it hard to see that the center is what Tammy Hetmaniak, Community Coordinator calls "a one-stop shop" for sexually abused children and their families. She's been with them for almost 12 years, and three years before as an investigator.
"We are able to provide what had to be done throughout the city in different offices and locations. We can provide it in one place. Medical services, forensic interviewing, therapy and psychological services, and prevention for the community and the people that we work with in the building."
The center, which has some 50 employees, serves an estimated 5,000 children and teens year from the age of 0 to 17.
"Estimates show that only one out ten children, actually tell about their abuse, so that's even more frightening to us because we know that there are still children out there that we need to reach, and that we need to let them know that they can talk about their abuse, so that they can start the healing process."
But that's easier said than done, when you consider the the alarming statistics. Children who are abused are 40% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime as an adult, nearly half of the women in prison say that they were abused as
children, and more than 75% of teenage prostitutes have been sexually abused. Hetmaniak says it's not unusual to have kids come back for therapy, due to the nature of the abuse.
"Sometimes things happen to their family where, because of what has been said, the family falls apart. So, it is our job to put that child back together, and that family back together and hopefully, they can walk out and lead a normal healthy life."
The CAC brings together social workers, physicians, attorneys and law enforcement types. Matthew Gray is a lieutenant with the Pasadena ISD Police Department, and commands the Houston Metro Internet Crimes
Against Children Task Force. Funded by the Justice Department, It works cases involving child exploitation over the internet. Gray says the CAC plays a vital role in the cases he handles.
"Everything from a sexual assault exam, to any kind of counseling that child and the family may need. We go out and put the bad guy away, but they help us put him away as far as the exam and forensic interviews, and also the continuation of what that child has to go through, they help him through that. I mean, we couldn't do what we do without them."
The success of the center has necessitated the need for expansion as the direct and immediate costs of child sexual abuse are nearly $43 million each year. Information on the CAC's Capital Campaign and how you can contribute can be found at the Capital Campaign webpage.