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Agreement Lends Staggs Center To Organization

Staggs Clinic
The Jack S. Staggs Counseling Center will now be the site where child victims from Walker County will be brought for forensic questioning due to a collaboration made between SHSU and the Children's Safe Harbor.

Children from the Walker County area who have been harmed by sexual or physical abuse and their families will benefit from an agreement recently made between Sam Houston State University’s Educational Leadership and Counseling Department and the Children’s Safe Harbor in Conroe.

The collaboration, which went into effect Sept. 1, will allow CSH to utilize the Jack Staggs Counseling Clinic for two half-days per week to conduct forensic interviews.

“This collaborative effort is a remarkable opportunity for the families and children in need in Walker County,” said Victoria Constance, executive director for CSH. “With the gracious assistance of SHSU and the clinical department of the Jack S. Staggs Counseling Center, children will be prioritized—the children and their non-offending caregivers will have the opportunity to work through the criminal justice system efforts to protect children and to prosecute offenders within Walker County borders.”

The agreement will allow child victims, who have, in the past, had to be transported to an interview site, to stay local and give them a more comfortable environment in which to talk to a CSH staff member, according to Rick Bruhn, professor and clinical coordinator for SHSU’s counselor education programs.

“When a child is a victim of a crime—for example, the child is sexually molested, by either a family member or someone else, or a child is abused physically or emotionally—and there is a criminal investigation, then the child will be interviewed by law enforcement personnel or a trained interviewer,” Bruhn said.

“Rather than having the children from Walker County transported down to Conroe in a sheriff’s vehicle as would be the case, which is a bit intimidating, there was an attempt to have them interviewed in various places,” Bruhn said. “One of the places recently was a room set up in the back of the sheriff’s office; that was intimidating to the kids and the families too. (The children were asking) ‘What’s wrong? Am I in trouble? Is someone else in trouble?’”

Ensuring that the child is comfortable is important in the process because the child needs to feel safe after having undergone such a traumatic experience, according to Bruhn.

“In this facility we provide an environment that looks and feels safe, that’s confidential and that’s private,” he said. “It looks like a place where they can come in and talk about what is important for them to talk about without getting in trouble. That’s real important.”

SHSU’s state-of-the-art Jack Staggs Counseling Clinic will allow personnel from CSH, Child Protective Services, the district attorney’s office and possibly the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, to observe the interview from the clinic’s supervision room, where monitors and recording devices are housed.

Interviews will be held in one of the facility’s 10 individual counseling rooms equipped with a microphone embedded in the ceiling and a stationery camera that will allow the authorities to videotape the interview and take the tape with them, according to Bruhn.

The families stay in the waiting area during the interview and are debriefed afterward in the Tom W. Thweatt, III Memorial Marriage and Family Therapy Room.

“Not all of these cases go to court, but by virtue of being able to do an interview with a standard protocol, and with guidelines set in place, the court understands it as valid, legitimate legal testimony, and it certainly positions the district attorney’s office better in the case,” Bruhn said. “Many of these cases are settled out of court and saves the very difficult process of a child, who can be very, very young, having to go in and be a witness.”

While CSH is conducting interviews, the clinic, which also offers free counseling to the public each night, will be closed to anyone not immediately involved in the forensic interviews, including faculty, staff and students in order to provide anonymity to the child and his/her family.

CSH is expecting to conduct as many as five interviews per week during the two half-day sessions.

A large percentage of the children who have experienced sexual abuse and assault and severe physical abuse are referred to CSH, which receives more than 3000 reports annually of children abused in Montgomery, San Jacinto and Walker counties, according to Constance.

“The Walker County District Attorney's Office, Walker County Sheriff's Office, Huntsville Police Department and the Texas Department of Protective and Family Services all refer cases to CSH,” she said.

“The beauty of the facility and the support of the university will make a lasting impact on the coordinated community response to child abuse,” Constance said. “It takes an entire community to end child abuse, and this partnership is a strong statement of supporting families with the best practices available.”

Though allowing CHS to use the facility won’t have any immediate benefits for the counseling program, the service will provide a positive ripple effect that will reach through to numerous public service agencies, according to Bruhn.

“We’re strengthening our relationship with these organizations,” he said. “Child Protective Service will want to be able to refer children and families to a clinic that is cost free to the participants; we will become known through the judicial system in Walker County as a referral source for couples, families and individuals who need counseling.

“They will know us as people who will respond to their needs to serve the people of Walker County and beyond,” Bruhn said. “In addition, we’ve had interns (required to do one or two semesters in field placements) who worked with Children’s Safe Harbor, and as a result of this we will have more interns who will work there.”

For more information about the Jack S. Staggs Counseling Clinic at SHSU or counseling services, contact Bruhn at, and for more information on the Children's Safe Harbor program, contact Constance at 936.539.3314 or




SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Sept. 13, 2006
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Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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Telephone: 936.294.1836; Fax: 936.294.1834