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Advocacy center plays key role in child abuse cases

With cartoon characters painted on the walls and a room filled with familiar childhood toys, one might not realize the key Estrella TMs House can play in child abuse cases.

Here is where they come and tell their story, it TMs a child-friendly place where they can feel free, said Sara Munguia, a child forensic interviewer at Estrella TMs House.

For six years, Munguia has talked to victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse"some as young as 2-years-old and others as old as 17.

She sits in a room with the children and asks them questions while law enforcement officers watches a recording of the conversations. The information is used to help bring justice to the children and their families.

It can be very overwhelming so this is a place that they can feel comfortable, Munguia said.

Estrella TMs House also provides counseling and therapy for children. One technique known as play therapy allows young children to express themselves through toys.

The toys become their words, said Evelyn Brister, a child therapist at Estrella TMs House. They aren TMt just random toys.

The play therapy room is stocked with classic childhood items such as a play kitchen, a doll house, a play sword and plastic animals.

Through their play, they TMre able to show me what is happening or what happened to them. If the kitchen had anything to do with the trauma, they TMll use it as a tool, Brister said.

In the middle of the room is a sandbox. Brister said children intuitively use the sandbox as a way to calm themselves down after discussing traumatic incidences.

The sand is very soothing. They put their hands in there and that TMs how they calm down. They can TMt tell me, ~Ms. Evelyn I need to calm down, TM but they know what they need and so that TMs what they TMll do, she said.Brister and Munguia said the work they do can be difficult, but the experiences children have once they walk through the doors of Estrella TMs House is one that can change lives.

To see a kid walk in and to be able to provide that safe place where they are able to express their feelings and you can bring healing. There is no price for that, Brister said.

A child you know might be a victim of abuse if he or she displays sudden changes in behavior, performs sexual behaviors they TMve never exhibited before, or has physical signs of bruising or burning.

You can report any suspicions by calling 1-800-252-5400.

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