Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

For nearly three decades, KIDS Place has been providing services to children who have been victims of abuse in Macon County. Since the doors opened 26 years ago, the need for the services offered by the nonprofit have only increased, and with a growing demand, KIDS Place will soon have a new facility to offer comfort and healing to children in need.

The idea for KIDS Place was birthed when a group of people started meeting and praying for the needs of abused children in the community. Some of those in the group had seen firsthand the harm done to children by the very system that was put into place to protect them. There was no coordination of services between agencies and therapy was seldom offered to children and families. When therapy was offered it was rare that funds were available to pay for treatment.  In response to the prayer group, an anonymous $6,000 was donated.

Spearheaded by Dr. Jennifer Brown, a local pediatrician, a team of service providers was pulled together to determine the best use of those funds. After learning about the children’s advocacy center (CAC) model, the team traveled to Huntsville, Ala., to visit the very first CAC in the country. They came back to Franklin convinced that if a larger city such as Huntsville could start a CAC, then Franklin could easily do so. Because the team was already working so well together, bylaws were drawn up in June 1991, office space was secured along with a grant from Governor’s Crime Commission, and KIDS Place opened its doors in February 1992 to serve children, youth and teens.

Fast forward to 2015, when the need for a larger facility was identified during a strategic planning session with the KIDS Place Board of Directors and the KIDS Place Multidisciplinary Core Team. The team is made up of representatives from Social Services, law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, medical professionals, child therapists, victim advocates, KIDS Place staff, and others. The KIDS Place board began looking at available options at that time, but it was only recently that a land opportunity became available.

“Our new facility will be a gift to our community,” said Jim Bell, KIDS Place Board Chair. “This larger building will serve the demand of our ever increasing population of Macon County. With the additional office space more children and families will be able to receive therapeutic interventions at the same time. KIDS Place has always been a beacon of hope here in Macon County. Now with a larger facility, we anticipate that light will shine even brighter.”

According to KIDS Place Executive Director Alisa Ashe, one of the main reasons the new location, behind the Franklin Fire Department, was selected is because of its location in town.

“It is centrally located in town so it is convenient for our team and the families we serve,” said Ashe. “It also doesn’t hurt that it is beside the Franklin Police Department and it is a great level, undeveloped lot that measures just over an acre.”

The new facility will be largely funded by local donations from individuals, businesses and civic groups, and churches. Private foundation grant funding will be sought with hopes of securing some matching grants.

“We do not have a project budget yet,” said Ashe. “We are just now beginning the process of meeting with team members from our partner agencies to better determine their hopes, dreams and needs for a new facility. We will also be visiting other CACs to see what other communities have developed – what is working, what they would change, etc…. It’s a very exciting process! Once this information is collected, we can begin working with designers to develop plans and budgets.”

KIDS Place is currently at capacity in its present location. The new facility will be built with future needs in mind – especially concerning security, handicap accessibility, and privacy while also being warm, inviting and family friendly. The current facility has only one room for therapy, and one waiting room, yet demand for mental health treatment continues to grow. The KIDS Place Core Team meets monthly to review all open cases of child abuse. When the team meets in its current facility, there is seldom room at the table for each team member.

“I am very excited and encouraged about the purchase of land and plans for a new facility for KIDS Place,” said Ashley H. Welch, board member  district attorney. “KIDS Place provides the children of Macon County who may be victims of abuse a safe, neutral and warm environment to receive treatment and care. Building a new facility will allow KIDS Place to expand and offer more services to more children in Macon County.”

KIDS Place provided services for 83 children/youth/teens last year (FY 2016-17). Therapy was provided for 67 clients and there were 435 therapy sessions. There were 43 forensic interviews conducted at KIDS Place and 13 new cases were accepted for prosecution. Most clients were seen for child sexual abuse allegations (68%), followed by physical abuse (35%), witness to violence (25%), and severe neglect (8%). The sum is greater than 100% because some clients report more than one type of abuse.

“Kids Place has always been a place of hope,” said Heather Lee, Board Member and Pediatric Physician’s Assistant at KidzCare. “Our organization, as well as our partner agencies have made tremendous positive changes in the last few years and I think that the building of a new facility is a superb way to show the community how much progress has been made. As a pediatric PA here in Franklin I sometimes have children who need to be referred to Kids Place or who have been taken care of by Kids Place. I always feel hopeful for those children because I know that they will be, or have been well taken care of. I am so honored to be a part of such an organization and am so thrilled at the prospect of our new chapter as it unfolds in the coming years.”

KIDS Place is a nonprofit children’s advocacy center that is accredited by the National Children’s Alliance and must meet stringent standards to maintain this designation. Expanding their facility, while continuing to be accessible to the public is vital to continue meeting the needs of the community.

“I am always proud to say that so many years ago, a small group of people had a vision and a driving passion for children in this county,” said Teresa Mallonee (Board Member & Director Human Resources TekTone. “So much so that they put aside their own personal or agency needs and chose to focus on the needs of our most vulnerable children and to take action.  And here we are now, many years later,  planning a new state of the art facility to provide improved services, to move that vision even further than we imagined, and perhaps most importantly, still focusing on what is best for the child and family and what promotes healing for them and for our community.  We were and are still a leader in collaboration.  Perhaps our nation should look at our model.”

KIDS Place works directly with both the Franklin Police Department and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office to provide services to children of abuse. While they organization is a non-profit, the services it provides are necessary for the governments and without KIDS Place, taxpayer dollars would be used by the organizations to fill the gap.

“Serving on the KIDS Place Board for 20 plus years has been rewarding in that our community has a place where families can come to receive professional intake,” said Gary Shields, Board Member, County Commissioner. “The intake involves professional institutions with highly professional people who care about abuse victims.  KIDS Place has a “rescue” and “recovery” mission and via the work of the board of directors and the professional “core team” members these two goals are achieved.  Now that we are in the process of relocating and building on a site close to the one we have now, better facilities equals better upgrades and more success within the “rescue” and “recovery” of abused families and children.”

For more information about KIDS Place or how to support their upcoming building campaign, contact KIDS Place at 828.524-3199.