Child advocacy agency uses an RV to reach under-served communit

Child advocacy agency uses an RV to reach under-served communities

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A state of the art RV travels the winding roads of Cumberland County, serving the needs of abused and neglected children in Tennessee's rural counties. A state of the art RV travels the winding roads of Cumberland County, serving the needs of abused and neglected children in Tennessee's rural counties.
"We see all the severe cases, your sexual abuse cases, where there's severe physical injury," explained Jennifer Wilkerson. "We see all the severe cases, your sexual abuse cases, where there's severe physical injury," explained Jennifer Wilkerson.
"Anytime a child doesn't have to testify is a good thing," explained General Randy York. "It minimizes the impact on the children and that's what it's all about, trying to make sure these children don't suffer more abuse." "Anytime a child doesn't have to testify is a good thing," explained General Randy York. "It minimizes the impact on the children and that's what it's all about, trying to make sure these children don't suffer more abuse."
"One case in particular was a child pornography case," explained Casey Cox, the chief investigator for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. "One case in particular was a child pornography case," explained Casey Cox, the chief investigator for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

CROSSVILLE (WATE) – A state of the art RV travels the winding roads of Cumberland County, serving the needs of abused and neglected children in Tennessee's rural counties.

At the driver's seat is Jennifer Wilkerson, the director of the Upper Cumberland County Child Advocacy Center.  More than 21,000 children in Tennessee suffer from abuse each year and places like the CAC help prevent and investigate those abuse cases.

"We see all the severe cases, your sexual abuse cases, where there's severe physical injury," explained Wilkerson.

The Upper Cumberland County Child Advocacy Center is located in Cookeville. It serves the entire 13th district, encompassing seven counties.

"It's the largest district in the state and the other thing is it's a very rural area and mountainous which makes transportation very difficult to get the children and their families to center," explained Wilkerson.

They help more than 1,000 children each year. But, Wilkerson explained, they realized some children were being overlooked.

"It was really disheartening to go home and realize there were some children who weren't receiving the services simply because they didn't have a car or didn't have the way to get to the child advocacy center," she said. "It was really heart-breaking to know some of those kids were being left behind."

That's where the RV comes in. It's fully outfitted with a forensic interview room, cameras for law enforcement to observe, and all the amenities of the center.

"We wanted to make it feel like a home," explained Wilkerson.

The state of the art RV costs about $75,000, but it came at no expense to the state. The funds come primarily from past child abuse cases.

"One case in particular was a child pornography case," explained Casey Cox, the chief investigator for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.

Gary Brewer was arrested in May 2012 on multiple counts of child pornography when police discovered more than 100 images of pornography in his Crossville home. It was the second raid on his home.

He was sentenced in October 2012 to eight years in prison. District Attorney General Randy York asked that his property be turned over to the state.

The sale of his home went towards the RV, the first of its kind in the state and only the second in the nation.

"To be able to work a case where someone is perpetrating on a child, as horrific as that is, to be able to take their property and take their money and be able to put it back into the system to fight crime against those type of people and those type of predators," explained Cox.

During the types of cases the CAC deals with, the forensic interview is the first and most crucial step for the investigation and it can help reduce the time those children spend in the courtroom.

"Anytime a child doesn't have to testify is a good thing," explained General Randy York. "It minimizes the impact on the children and that's what it's all about, trying to make sure these children don't suffer more abuse."

Wilkerson and her team estimate they'll be able to help at least 100 more children each year.

"We're here to provide the best possible help to these children," said Wilkerson. "And now having [this RV] is going to enable us to reach out to more kids and to provide those things they would have never gotten before."

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