Children's advocacy center is place where abuse stops, and healing begins
When a young innocent child is the victim of a sexual crime, it takes great courage to tell someone about the painful ordeal. In the past, the forensic process often resulted in the young victim having to recount the horrific incident to countless investigators and child welfare workers, causing them even more trauma. The victims and their families were often sent from one agency to another, from the police department to the hospital to children’s social services to the therapist’s office. Starting this month, young victims in Delaware County are now served in one safe place, the Delaware County Children’s Advocacy Center (DCCAC). The center is a neutral, child-friendly setting where the team of law enforcement officers and social service professionals can coordinate their response to child-sex-abuse cases.
The new Center, at 100 W. Sixth St., Media, is operated by Family Support Line, an agency that has been serving young victims of sexual abuse for 25 years, providing abuse prevention programs and therapy sessions for the victims and their families.
“We wanted to follow the national model for a Children’s Advocacy Center to bring together all the disciplines that need to be involved in a report of child sexual abuse,” said Pat Kosinski, Family Support Line director. “The end goal is to stop the abuse and start the healing.” Kosinski reported the alarming projection that in Delaware County, the children who may be sexually abused by the time they are 18 would fill the Wells Fargo Center. “We now provide a skilled forensic interviewer who will meet with the child in one room while the full team can observe from a separate room,” Kosinski said. “Counselors and advocates are available to the family and there are follow-up case review meetings to allow all team members to coordinate their efforts.”
The Delaware County CAC is the result of two years of collaborative planning among several agencies. Family Support Line is supported by partnerships with Delaware County Council, the Department of Human Services, Children and Youth Services, the Office of Behavioral Health, the District Attorney’s Office, the Delaware County Police Chiefs’ Association, and other donors. Through March, the county Office of Children and Youth Services (CYS) and the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) provided $200,500 in funding.
“As the father of three children, I feel strongly about the need to protect children from these horrific crimes,” said County Councilman Michael Culp. “I am pleased that County Council and our Human Service offices can support this coordinated and comprehensive approach to help every child victim. The focus here is on healing for each child and their family.”
Kosinski explained that child advocacy centers (CACs) provide a safe, neutral location where law enforcement and child protective service investigators can conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are alleged victims of crimes. The CAC is also a place where the child and non-offending family members receive support, crisis intervention and referrals for mental health and medical treatment. “The goal is to reduce the trauma to child victims by bringing all the disciplines together,” she said. The multi-disciplinary teams are made up of law enforcement officers, child protective service personnel, prosecutors, lawyers, advocates, mental health therapists and medical personnel.
A specially trained forensic interviewer meets with the child in one room, equipped with video cameras, while the team can observe from a different room. Interviews are recorded reducing the number of times the child needs to be interviewed. The process is accredited by the National Children’s Alliance. Information gathered in the forensic interview is used to help make decisions about protection, prosecution and treatment.
District Attorney Jack Whelan said it has been shown that CACs have resulted in more pleas for the prosecution and longer sentences for the perpetrators. “We already instruct local police departments that specially trained people should interview child victims. The new center will use a skilled forensic interviewer and the process will be less traumatic for the child,” Whelan said. “This provides a more coordinated and comprehensive approach to investigating the cases and prosecuting the child predators. Anything that helps us stop abuse is of benefit to our children and our families.”
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has strongly supported the creation of CACs across the nation. In late April 2015, the Senate passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which Senator Toomey staunchly supported and co-sponsored. This bill ensures that a portion of the funds confiscated from perpetrators of crimes are used those funds to set up CACs. “It is great news that Delaware County is opening a Child Advocacy Center,” said Sen. Toomey. “I have had the opportunity to tour some of Pennsylvania's Child Advocacy Centers and have seen the important work they do helping abused children begin the healing process.”
For information about the Delaware County Child Advocacy Center call 610-268-9145.