On March 2, 2023, President Judge Linda Cartisano swore in twelve new members of the Delaware County Child Abuse & Exploitation Task Force. The Task Force, established by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer in September of 2020, is the first of its kind in the County. It is comprised of officers from the County’s municipal police departments who regularly work on child abuse cases under the supervision of the Deputy District Attorney for Special Victims and the Criminal Investigation Division’s Child Abuse Unit. Members of the Task Force receive special training in the best practices in the investigation and prosecution of these cases.
District Attorney Stollsteimer stated, “Child abuse cases are singularly difficult to prosecute. No other type of case presents such consistently complex psychological and social dynamics. No other type of case so often requires the assistant district attorney to go to trial with a child as the most crucial witness. Child abuse victims face unique challenges. In the vast majority of these cases the offender is a trusted authority figure – family member, friend, neighbor, babysitter, clergy member, scout master or teacher – who physically or sexually abuses a child dependent on that person. The stress on a child in this situation is extraordinary. Our office is committed to ensuring that we limit the additional trauma experienced by these child victim/witnesses.”
The Task Force is part of a multi-pronged strategy by District Attorney Stollsteimer, the Court, and County Council to protect the County’s children from abuse and exploitation. In addition to the Task Force, in the summer of 2022 then-President Judge Kevin Kelly signed an order designating a single District Court as the Delaware County Child Abuse Magisterial District Court. The Court, which is presided over by MDJ Andrew Goldberg in Upper Providence, has been established to handle cases where the victim is a minor and the matter was charged by a member of the Child Abuse & Exploitation Task Force, or a minor is a necessary witness to a crime. The designation of a single District Court to hear these difficult cases reflects the recognition by the Court that steps must be taken to ensure that the legal process – in its search for justice for the victims – does not inflict additional trauma on the children involved.
By making various changes from the normal District Court process, the goal of the Children’s Court is to reduce the stress on the children. For example, the Court has a separate space for the victims so they do not need to wait with their offenders prior to the hearing. With contributions from the Victim Assistance Center, books and toys have been added to the space to make it more comfortable for the children. In addition, each case will have a specific time for their hearing, so that the children do not wait through a list of dozens of other cases. The Court will also allow comfort animals as requested.
“Simply put, there can be no higher priority for the Court than the protection of our children, particularly those that have been traumatized as victims of abuse. The Court has been gratified by the success of its collaboration with all of the stake-holders in the creation of the Children’s Court, and we see it as evidence of the continuing commitment of the County to employ best practices in the prosecution of these difficult cases,” said President Judge Linda Cartisano.
In addition to supporting the development of the Task Force and the Children’s Court, County Council has been working closely with the Children’s Advocacy Center, a program of Family Support Line, to ensure that both the CAC and FSL have the funding and the space that they require to do their work. Prosecutors and the Court rely on the CAC to conduct the forensic interviews that are absolutely critical to any successful prosecution. In order to conduct their work in the most accessible, comfortable and professional manner possible, in 2021 it was recognized that new accommodations were required. To that end, the CAC has worked with County Council to identify new accommodations and to ensure that adequate funding would continue to available. “Our children are our future, and supporting the organizations that perform critical services to protect and support our children is an essential part of County Council’s mandate. We are enormously grateful for the work done by all of our partner agencies, and we welcome the opportunity to support their critical work,” said Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor.
The Court, the District Attorney’s office, and County Council encourage the public to become more aware of the signs of child abuse and neglect and how to report suspected abuse. If you suspect a case of child abuse or endangerment, please call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.
Contact: Margie McAboy, Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, 610-579-0429