The “child welfare” community of agencies and services in the Marianna area soon will be taking a giant step towards improving the local availability of services. The Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, based in Panama City, operates a small office with just two employees in Marianna on Clinton Street behind Winn Dixie. But according to the executive director of the non-profit (not state) agency Lori Allen: “Justice and services should not depend on the jurisdiction in which you live.” So the Advocacy Center has just purchased a two-story stately but aging and needy brick home on Lafayette Street across Hwy 90 from Maddox Chapel. It was listed for sale by the family of current chamber of commerce head Jeff Massey. They hope the house, to be completely remodeled, will be ready for business and up to 15 employees before the end of the year, Allen told Business News Tuesday morning.
That will make the Marianna offices similar to the remarkably handsome, very child-friendly offices built in 2009 on 11th Street in Panama City, where 19 staffers are employed. “We hope the increase in services for the Jackson County area, including Calhoun County, will help improve a family’s ability to heal,” Allen said. The Advocacy Center takes children “just hours after allegations are made,” Allen explained, concerning alleged physical or sexual abuse. Based on the skilled interviews with the children at the center, the ensuing decisions are made for prosecutions and any removal of the children from their homes. They work very closely with the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). Allen is a former DCF investigator. The new Marianna facility will employ therapists, a pediatrician and family advisors. All the services are provided at no cost to the families, Allen added.
Incidentally, the Advocacy Center expansion comes at the completion of the huge newly-constructed headquarters for the non-profit Big Bend Community Based Care, which involves adoptions and other child services, on Optimist Drive and the recent opening next door of the Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital clinic, which offers psychiatric care and is based in Panama City. LuAnn Dean, the daughter of Marianna City Manager Jim Dean, is the community development director for the Advocacy Center in Marianna. Handling the real estate transaction for the Massey family is Ann Jones, of Florida Showcase Realty. For more info, see the Advocacy center’s webpage or call Panama City at 850-872-7760.