By Kevin Wilson
CLOVIS — If you live in a house smaller than 1,000 square feet, adding an interior wall doesn’t sound like the greatest of plans.
But if you work in that house, and are tasked to provide a safe interview space for children in suspected abuse cases, your outlook may change.
The Oasis Children’s Advocacy Center spent the week renovating its safehouse on 1523 W. 13th St. to set up a wall that divides the lobby area from its office and interview room.
The wall offers multiple benefits, forensics interviewer Cheryl Little said, including better protection for the staff and its computer equipment. The biggest benefit, though, is the wall adds a soundproof barrier to the room where safehouse interviews are performed with children.
The house, built in 1992, includes the lobby, a bathroom, Director Laura Lucero’s office and the interview room where Little puts the children at ease and asks them about what’s happened.
The room includes recording equipment, which feeds into a TV and DVD burner housed in Lucero’s office. Those burned DVDs become evidence.
“What the children say,” Little said, “can determine whether something is going to be prosecuted or dropped.”
The issue, with Lucero in her office watching the interview and Little interviewing in the other room, is that relatives will try to stand by doors and eavesdrop on the children.
Lucero recalled one interview in which a child struggled to recall nicknames of family friends. After the interview concluded, the mother provided those nicknames, even though she wasn’t in the interview room and had yet to talk to her child.
It wasn’t a problem when the safehouse had three employees, before former director Hank Baskett Jr. retired.
“We never really thought about it,” Lucero said. “It’s just gotten so intense now.”
But with two employees, it was an issue — one Lucero wanted to fix without adding to the payroll. Oasis procured a $5,000 grant from the Hancock Foundation in Albuquerque, then found a local contractor to build the soundproof wall. The contractor, Lucero said, agreed to cover any overage as an in-kind contribution to the organization.
The Oasis, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in August, is now seeking grant money for mobile interview and recording equipment.
The organization, which has conducted 132 interviews this year, serves Curry, Roosevelt, Quay, De Baca and Harding counties and will assist with matters in Lea and Eddy counties.