Client numbers at Hamilton children's advocacy center grows, service demands increase

RAVALLI COUNTY

Kevin Maki By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
POSTED: 5:59 PM Sep 13 2013   UPDATED: 6:52 PM Sep 13 2013
Client numbers at Hamilton children's advocacy center grows, service demands increase
HAMILTON, Mont. -

A children's advocacy center in Hamilton could see its client load increase by as much as 20 percent this year.

Emma's House helps kids who may have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, or neglected. Last year, the center served 120 children.  That number is already up to 110, and by year's end could climb as high as 140 or 150.

The center is holding its annual fundraiser Saturday evening in Hamilton. It hopes to raise at least $50,000 to meet growing demand.

Val Widmer is a licensed clinical social worker trained in forensic interviewing -- a neutral, fact finding, structured conversation.

"We're trying to elicit as much information and detail from the child," said Widmer, "in the child's words about something that may have happened."

Children can draw pictures or get up and walk around if they want to.

"It's really a conversation led by the child," said Widmer.

The young clients are referred by law enforcement, the state's child and family services, or medical providers. Investigators listen to the interview from another room. All interviews are video recorded, streamlining the investigation so kids only have to say what happened once.

"Most of the kids that come here are between the ages of 4 and 11," said Widmer.

But Emma's House serves younger children too, and a lot of teenagers. They come here because they're endangered by drugs, or have been emotionally, physically or sexually abused.