Mercer County Child Protect

The staff of Child Protect of Mercer County poses for a photo celebrating their twentieth anniversary: pictured from L to R, top row: Amy Mills, Ashley Lawrence, Shiloh Woodard, Beth Sizemore, Lindsay Pack, Jessica Whitt. Bottom row: Allie Lambert, LaDeana Morgan, Arianna Bailey, Stephanie Lacy and Tonya Milam

PRINCETON — For a child, being involved in a criminal case investigation can be a traumatic experience.

Twenty years ago this year, four people concerned with alleviating that trauma joined efforts to create Child Protect of Mercer County.

According to CPMC Executive Director Shiloh Woodard, “(Then-attorney, now Family Court Judge) Mary Ellen (Griffith) was seeing children having to testify in court cases completely unprepared to testify about what had happened to them. With the various agencies involved in cases, they could be interviewed up to 25 times by professionals. She thought there had to be a way to reform the process to make it easier for the children.”

Woodard said Griffith, then-Community Connections Executive Director Shannon Atwell, then-Mercer County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tom Berry and then-Child Protective Services staffer Crystal Leedy got together to organize CPMC in the fall of 2001.

“They got some initial federal grant funding to establish Child Protect, set up a location and hired a staff. Over the years, it’s become not only a resource center for Mercer County but a nationally-recognized program,” she said.

Griffith said, “It was clear that something had to be done. When we started Child Protect, it was going to be a place where children could tell their stories about abuse. We needed to make that happen. “

Twenty years later, CPMC has grown and evolved from that original purpose, they are now a place where children can go to receive free mental health counseling and forensic medical examinations; support as they go through the legal system; get needed supplies through the Family Resources Center; assistance in mending family bonds; child abuse prevention education.

Throughout the year, Woodard said, there will be events on social media, including interviews with key figures throughout the years, to observe the anniversary. There will is also an anniversary celebration and a fundraising campaign planned.

Jeff Harvey is a freelance reporter and columnist for the Princeton Times. Contact him at delimartman@yahoo.com.

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