GASTONIA, N.C. — Gaston County leaders, staffers, detectives, and prosecutors broke ground Thursday on a new multi-million dollar child advocacy center.
The new facility for the Lighthouse Children's Advocacy Center, located next to City Church off South New Hope Road, will allow more space for detectives, prosecutors, and social workers to conduct forensic interviews with children who are the victims of abuse cases.
Tara Joyner, the director of the Hope United Survivor Network, said the groundbreaking is the culmination of years of work.
"To see the people that are out here and ready to do the work and ready to make this community a better place for our children and our families, it's really, really just an awesome, awesome feeling," Joyner said.
Gaston County commissioners fast-tracked the project's development in March 2020 as part of a local effort to stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joyner said while the center benefitted from the stimulus, the pandemic has led to more abuse.
In March 2021...they conducted 40 interviews, which is about a 35 percent jump compared to March 2019
"It's a very strange place to be in," Joyner said. "But to be here and have something good come out of it, we're really grateful."
Heather Kauffman, the program manager for The Lighthouse Children's Advocacy Center, believed case numbers will go up because children will be back in school and around more people who they would feel safe disclosing their abuse.
She also attributed a rise in cases to the center's ongoing educational awareness.
Construction is expected to start in the coming days and will last about a year.
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