Child abuse victim center breaks ground

10/30/07 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

The groundbreaking celebration for Mary Lee’s House, which will be a Child Protection and Advocacy Center was this morning in West Tampa.

Once construction for Mary Lee’s House is completed in about a year, it will be the home for a range of services for abused children. The center is named after one member of the board of directors, Mary Lee Farrior.

“There has never been anything like this where all these entities would be under one roof for abused children. When the child was picked up by the sheriff or an ambulance they were taken to all these different places, whether it was one of the hospitals and then they had to go somewhere else for mental health. And now it’s all going to be under one roof where the abused child will be taken. There’s a doctor 24-7, a nurse, mental health, the prosecutors, everybody will be under one roof for this child. It’s just the most wonderful thing.”

Professionals from several areas of child protection will work together at Mary Lee’s House to provide services for abused children including child abuse prevention and advocacy, medical exams and care, mental health care, criminal investigations, and forensic interviews and case management.

Hillsborough County has been trying to get such a center for several years and there are only 250 similar centers around the United States, according to Mary Lee Farrior, who donated more than $1-million to the project. She told WMNF why she wanted to get involved.

“Children are just my heart. I have four of my own and 10 grandchildren, and have always just really cared for children, particularly abused children. Every time you pick up the newspaper there’s something about an abused child. I just wanted to do what I could and it’s just a dream come true that we could make this happen.”

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who is on the Mary Lee’s House board of directors, read a statement from the County Commission and said that the county’s abused children will benefit from the new advocacy center.

“This is the only program of its kind in Hillsborough County. And based on proven models, I guarantee you, with the leadership we have at the Mary Lee’s House board and associates, that we will be the proven leader to do what we have to do in this community for so many children of need.”

Miami, Orlando, Ocala and Niceville are other Florida cities that have child protection and advocacy centers for child abuse victims with several types of services available in one place.

Mary Lee’s House is partnering with the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Child Protection Team of the Department of Pediatrics at USF, and the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said his office is cooperating with Mary Lee’s House because of their shared goals.

The Sheriff’s Office assumed the responsibility of child abuse investigations in 2006 from the State Department of Children and Families. Our Child Protective Investigation Division has about a hundred investigators for around-the-clock protection and investigations into abuse and neglect of our children. The Division’s motto is ‘committed to protecting children.’ I believe that fits hand in glove with the motto of Mary Lee’s House.”

Mary Lee’s House will be a two-story, 30,000-square-foot building; funding comes from the 13th Judicial Circuit Administrative Office of the Courts and the city of Tampa in addition to private donations from individuals, foundations and businesses.

Manny Menendez is the Chief Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit. “Mary Lee’s House is … a wonderful example of what can be accomplished by a collaborative effort between the public and private partnership.”

Robert Nelson, chair of USF’s Department of Pediatrics, offered several reasons why Mary Lee’s House is important.

“Kids and families who are in crisis can come and start the healing process. But for those of us who are involved at the University, it also represents a place where the next generation of health care providers and counselors will have an opportunity to be part of the process and to learn it from the experts.”

Learn more:

Mary Lee’s House

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Department of Pediatrics at USF

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