Child Sexual Abuse Agency Victim of Amendment One Cuts; Abuse May Go Undetected

It's the one crime that enrages just about everyone; sexual abuse of children, and now there's bad news for those working to protect children. A non-profit agency that works with young crime victims saw its budget slashed last week, a victim of the Amendment One vote.

It isn't a state agency but it does state work and depends on state money.

Child Protect is used by prosecutors in Montgomery, Autauga, and Elmore counties because it specializes in working with traumatized children who have been abused.  But tomorrow, the agency's budget will be about 40% smaller, and that could put kids in danger.

It's one place children feel safe to talk after someone sexually abuses them. But with fewer people listening for a much shorter time, catching an abuser may get harder.

Executive Director Jannah Bailey says timing is everything.  "Maybe the child was talking today, but tomorrow they're not going to talk. You know, children, you kinda have to take 'em as they start talkin'," she said.

That difficult, painful conversation happened 330 times here last year but now, three out of seven people working at Child Protect are gone. What's worse is that two of those employees counseled abused children for months and often uncovered abuse police officers never saw. Bailey outlines one recent example.

"We found out from a grandmother that there were 10 children living in a trailer with no electricity and no water, and they didn't have any food," she said.

That additional abuse is discovered about 60% of the time. Now, Bailey fears those victims may go unnoticed.

"Our hope is that it's not going to be the children that suffer," she said. "But you know as well as I do, somewhere along the lines, there's gonna be something that didn't get taken care with of with one of these children, and it will be because we didn't have the fundings for more staff."

There's plenty of bad financial news for Child Protect. It got about 1/3 of its budget from the state, because it worked with so many prosecutors. Obviously, that was slashed after September 9th.

But the agency also took a hit after 9/11, too, when federal funds for crime victims was redirected to victims of terrorism.

But one of the most painful hits: Child Protect lost money from the United Way, too, a victim of low donations.  And Child Protect isn't alone.  Many of the same agencies targeted in state budget cuts also need United Way money.

United Way couldn't meet its fundraising goal last year, and the situation could be worse in 2003 if donations don't pick up.