LIHUE — Supporting Kauai’s abused and neglected kids through the healing process is the reason the Children’s Justice Center exists.
Nationwide, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18, according to statistics provided by agency officials.
“Kids who are victims of abuse or witnesses to crimes can really grow up to be healthy, productive individuals,” said Jasmine Mau-Mukai, statewide director, “but it’s really due to the work the community does.”
On Kauai, there’s a strong partnership between the CJC and 15 agencies that coordinate these cases, she said.
After an allegation of abuse is made, Mau-Mukai said, the child must undergo a specialized interview called a forensic interview, conducted by trained professionals, related to the allegations.
Prior to the center’s creation by state statute in 1986, kids often had to be interviewed multiple times, by multiple agencies.
“Every time you have to talk about someone abusing you or your witnessing a crime, that’s a lot of trauma for a child,” said Mau-Mukai. “An adult would have a similar kind of trauma.”
“Having a center in one place, under one roof, in a child-friendly, neutral location, enables people (investigators and coordinating agencies) to come here, versus the child having to go to all these different places,” Mau-Mukai said.
The centralized location, she said, is much more child-friendly. On Kauai, there are two age-appropriate interview rooms: one for teens and older children, and one for younger children, at the center on Pahee Street near the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.
In addition, Kauai Program Director Karla Huerta-Balocan said the center acts as a meeting place for agencies coordinating cases, including the Kauai Police Department, family court and the prosecuting attorney.
When the Legislature created the agency, it was with the intention of focusing on children who had been sexually abused. But in 2001, Mau-Mukai said, the Legislature changed the name from “Children’s Advocacy Center” to “Children’s Justice Center,” so the agency could expand its services.
“Sometimes we would get calls and we would say, ‘We can’t help you because its physical abuse,’ and that shouldn’t be the case,” Mau-Mukai said. “This should be a place children can come no matter what the type of abuse or crime (they witnessed) is. “
In 2017, the agency has been working on expanding services throughout Hawaii, to include child sex trafficking and how to identify high-risk cases.
“Nationally, there’s a lot of attention paid to that, so we’re making a really concerted effort to formalize the system to be able to respond to children who may be victims of sex trafficking,” said Mau-Mukai.
The Kauai team has attended some training, and will be working in 2018 to strengthen the program, focusing on how to identify and intervene, she said.
“They tend to be extremely complex cases,” she said.
Another area the center specializes in is how to support professionals who experience secondary trauma from working on these cases, said Mau-Mukai.
“They accomplish this by conducting case debriefs and specialized trainings about handling trauma,” she said.
“It’s difficult for professionals, also for law enforcement and child welfare, that they also have to interview suspects,” Mau-Mukai said.
It’s important, she said, for those who work these cases to know they are not alone.
“We can all support each other, and having a safe place to debrief and to talk about how you feel is so important, because you can only take in so much.”
There are five centers statewide: Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Hilo and Kona on the Big Island.
Though the agency’s purpose is to work with children, Mau-Mukai said it’s never too late to disclose abuse.
“There are other resources available for adults,” she said.
To report a case of child abuse, call the state child welfare abuse reporting line at 1-800-494-3991 or contact KPD dispatch at 241-1711. If it’s an emergency, call 911.