BY LINDA MARGISON
Hundreds of tiny hand-shaped cutouts hang in the hallways of Susie’s Place Child Advocacy Center in Bloomington. Those hands represent a portion of the 3,000 children ages 2 to 18 seen there since Susie’s Place opened in 2011. The center is located at 365 S. Park Ridge Road.
Founder Emily Perry says numbers continue to increase, with the local office seeing 500 new cases a year, about the same number as the original Susie’s Place in Avon, Indiana. The Bloomington office is staffed by three social workers who receive assistance from the nine staff members in Avon, as well as local medical providers.
In Bloomington, approximately 80 percent of cases involve allegations of sex crimes against children, 11 percent serious abuse and violence, 5 percent children witnessing drug and violent crimes, and the remainder severe neglect.
Children arrive at Susie’s Place with law enforcement or the Department of Child Services (DCS) to participate in forensic interviews, receive on-site trauma-focused play therapy, and to undergo acute medical exams administered by medical professionals.
When Perry’s team talks with a child, those responsible for investigating or intervening for the child—detectives, prosecutors, advocates, and other interviewers—watch via closed-circuit television down the hall rather than repeatedly interviewing the child. “We all work together as a team to make that experience for that kid as positive as possible,” Perry says. “It doesn’t always mean it’s easy, but when we have difficult things to talk about, we try to do it in a way that is the most child-friendly, age- and developmentally appropriate as possible.”
Perry says the most popular program for children is dog therapy, which stars Angel, a Bernese mountain dog. “It’s just that instant rapport that I can’t always get with a kid, but if you bring a dog in the room, then you have something to talk about,” she says.
Built through grassroots fundraising and word-of-mouth support, Susie’s Place launched in 2009 and is named for the late Susie Austin, a Hendricks County detective specializing in crimes against children. “It took a long time to get the ball rolling,” Perry says of the Avon location, “but as soon as that ball got rolling, it’s been a runaway freight train.” She opened the Bloomington office two years later and a third location in Terre Haute, Indiana, in May.
Perry stresses that every person in Indiana is required by law to report suspicions of child abuse, even without substantial proof. Once law enforcement or DCS is notified, children can be served by Susie’s Place.
For more information, visit susiesplace.org.