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Child Watch shows adults how children go through the system

October 18, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - They often are brought in for probation violations, some which involve drugs. Depending on their attitude, they are either uncuffed or left in handcuffs.

A correctional officer writes down their personal information and makes note of any scars or tattoos before strip-searching them.

"We look in every crevice and hole we can look into without touching," said Michael Rephann, a correctional officer at the Eastern Regional Juvenile Center in Martinsburg. "Yes, the residents will stick stuff where you think they won't stick stuff."

The "residents" - juveniles sent to the facility for committing a crime - are deloused with a spray; issued a smock, T-shirt, pants, socks and underwear; allowed to make a phone call to an immediate family member; and given a room.

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It can be one step in the process for children who are in trouble with the law, and was described Monday afternoon to a busload of elected officials, volunteers who work with abused or neglected children, school personnel and others who work with children.

Members of the group were taken on a bus tour of various sites in Berkeley and Morgan counties to see what children who are abused or neglected, or who have run afoul of the law, often go through.

Along with the juvenile detention center, other stops included City Hospital's emergency room, a children's shelter, a Circuit Court courtroom, the Child Advocacy Center, the Department of Health and Human Resources and an elementary school.

A deputy sheriff purposely pulled the bus over to allow members of the group - who were asked to pretend they were children - to interact with an officer.

"We had no idea what was going to happen to us," said Annie Otto, president of the Board of directors of Family Resource Network, which organized the event.

"I really think it was (a success)," Otto said after the daylong tour ended. "You hear this stuff but never experience it. When you actually play the part, it makes a difference."

Trauma to a child often does not end when physical or sexual abuse is reported to authorities. Sometimes that is only the beginning, Family Resource Network officials said.

"You may not be aware that the nightmare they suffer begins anew when their abuse is brought to the attention of authorities," according to written information about the event, called Child Watch. "Once the abuse is reported or discovered, many of these children embark on a confusing, frightful and lonely journey through the social service and court system. While adults all around them are trying to figure out what is in their best interest, they often undergo tests, therapy, transition and trauma as they are brought to myriad different experts and professionals who try to administer treatment and help develop long-term solutions."

Otto said about 25 people participated in the event, including Dels. Craig Blair, John Overington and Locke Wysong.

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