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As federal funding plummets, need for Family and Children's Center services spikes

Winona Daily News - 12/2/2023

Dec. 2—On average each year, about 300 children — mostly victims of violent crimes — step into the doors of Family and Children's Center's Matty's Place in Winona and Stepping Stones in La Crosse to share their stories.

Matty's Place and Stepping Stones — which includes a team of three trained professionals shared between the two programs — allow the children to only have to tell their story of the crime one time, to one single person in a comforting space.

Then, law enforcement, child protective services and others involved in the legal case are able to gather the information they need from the recorded interview and fight for justice for the child involved.

Danielle Swedberg, the program coordinator for Family & Children's Center's child advocacy centers, said the emotional experience and potential harm to a child in retelling it repeatedly can be mitigated if it only has to be shared once.

"The need for any of us to talk about something difficult repeatedly, can be very, very challenging," Swedberg said.

She said having one clear telling of the story allows for a "much stronger case when we look at prosecution or holding the offender accountable."

Advocates in the programs work potentially for years with the child's family to ensure that they have the support they need while the legal case proceeds.

The number of children served by these programs continue to grow, with almost 400 children expected to share their stories this year.

Federal funding for these programs, along with the center's safe visitation program that offers on average 80 appointments a week to families in Winona, is now plummeting.

Ellen Hongerholt, the director of advancement and marketing for the center, said in 2024 the center's victim services programs in Winona are expected to see a $56,000 cut in federal funding provided through the Victims of Crime Act, while the center's programs in La Crosse will see a $60,000 cut.

Cuts are expected to continue in the future.

Hongerholt said the Family and Children's Center is not alone with these funding cuts, as many other entities across the region that help victims of violent crimes also face less federal funding.

If the money is not raised in other ways, like through private donors, Hongerholt said hours, staff and services may need to be cut for the programs.

"If we don't have these child advocacy programs, then the kids lose their voice," Karrie Hahn, director of the Family and Children's Center Minnesota programs, said. "We're their voice for them, we're able to share their story, help them share their story. So if we're not around, they're not going to be able to share their story with somebody and abuse may get worse. More kids will be harmed. More deaths will occur. I don't want to think about what will happen if we can't have these advocacy centers."

To learn more about Family and Children's Center and to donate to support its children advocacy programs, visit www.fcconline.org.

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