Kids House for abused children in Seminole County set for expansion

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - In Seminole County, more help is on the way for children who have become victims of abuse. Kids House, the county's lead agency in child abuse, is expanding.

Channel 9's Bianca Castro learned that the expansion is needed as more families struggle with abuse.

At the center of nearly every case that Seminole County Child Protective Services' investigator Stacey Ault logs in her computer is a child who has been physically or sexually abused.

Ault said the job takes its toll.

"I get mad. I know every one deals with it differently -- that's my first response, mad, because I'm protective over that child," Ault said.

Many of her cases end up at Kids House, the children's advocacy center where all Seminole County law enforcement agencies bring victims of abuse.

Now the agency is planning a major expansion, because the need for help continues to grow.

"The problem, unfortunately, is not going away," said Kids House Executive Director Ernest Hamilton.

Those who run Kids House said what makes their place unique is what happens in the interview rooms.

When a child first speaks with an investigator in an interview room, cameras and microphones allow a team of medical personnel, law enforcement personnel and child advocates to watch and listen to the conversation. That means the child only has to go through the story one time.

From there, the child has access to medical services or forensic exams, counseling and basics, like food.

Officials with Kids House said last year 757 abused children came through the doors of their facility for the first time. They said that is many more than the agency ever expected when it opened in 1999.

"We're finding that there is a major need here in our community to provide the services that we do," Hamilton said.

The agency is in the process of buying two lots next door to expand and hopefully alleviate its growing pains, like cramped offices or the storage room that doubles as a training space.

Ault said she believes that as long as the agency is around, there's hope.

"We are all kind of working together, and we're all on the same page on how to help this family and work with them," said Ault.

Officials said 57 percent of the children who went to Kids House last year after they were abused were under the age of nine.