New Children’s Advocacy Center Opens in Walton County

The new Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center facility in DeFuniak Springs is now open.

Just in time to honor National Child Abuse Awareness month, the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center opened their second location earlier this month.

On April 8, the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs officially opened their doors with a ceremony and tours for the public.

Approximately 1,100 cases of child sexual and physical abuse are reported each year in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, an average of three a day.

The Advocacy Center’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect children in Okaloosa and Walton counties and restore the lives of child abuse and neglect victims.

In the Advocacy Center’s 16-year history, and out of their original location in Niceville, 40,000 direct services have been provided to children and their families and more than 10,000 children have received mental health counseling. Services are provided at no cost by the non-profit organization.

While the center tried to serve as many kids as possible in Walton County, the new center will help them reach even more.

“Now, our hope is to be there in a major way for impacted children and their families in Walton County,” commented Julie Hurst, CEO of the Advocacy Center.

“Our temporary DeFuniak Springs facility wasn’t adequate to handle the needs, but now with the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center open, we can really make a difference for the kids.”

Ribbon Cutting-PFCAC 4-8-2016-2
Julie Hurst, CEO of the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (left), announces the grand opening of the group’s newest facility in DeFuniak Springs.

The new 15,000-square-foot center is child-friendly environment featuring bright, cheerful colors, a yellow brick road in the courtyard and a hanging hot air balloon in the lobby made by art students at Northwest Florida State College. It also features a triptych three-panel piece of art, a collaboration by Walton County artists Susan Lucas, Miflin Holly Day and Nan Ream.

A multidisciplinary team of child protection personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement, Department of Children and Families staff, therapists and the Center’s own staff and volunteers will work there.

An Internet Crimes area with a bank of computers is set up on the lower level in collaboration with the FBI and the Walton County Sheriff’s Department to protect children from internet predators.

Some more facts about sexual abuse of children:

— 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she is 18
— 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before he is 18
— 90% of child victims know and trust their abusers
— 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while online
— An estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today

PFCAC Opening 4-8-2016-3
A ceremony was held April 8 to mark the grand opening of the new Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs.

An impressive $2.3 million of the $3 million capital campaign to build the center has been raised by many business and individual contributions. The most major contribution was a generous $1-million made by Jim and Tammy Pierce.

Companies and individuals can contribute to the Center by sponsoring various rooms.

Each sponsor will be recognized with a plaque affixed in a prominent position outside the sponsored room.

First Guests to PFCAC in Walton County 2016
The first people to tour the new facility in Walton County came through the doors on April 8.

For more info, visit the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Centers or call 850-833-9237. If abuse is suspected, call the anonymous Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.