UNIVERSITY PARK – Recent legislation enacted in Pennsylvania to protect children and prevent child abuse and neglect will substantially strengthen the efforts of Centre County’s new — and first — children’s advocacy center.
The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of Centre County opened in February and shares a building and partnership with Mount Nittany Health.
The center, which received a jump start in 2013 with a contribution from Penn State, promotes a compassionate, multi-disciplinary approach to the prevention, identification, intervention and treatment of child abuse. National statistics report that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
“Most people hear that statistic and think ‘I don’t know anyone like that,’” said Kristina Taylor-Porter, executive director of the CAC of Centre County. “But statistically speaking, it’s very likely that they actually do. Most people don’t like to think about it, because it’s a taboo topic. It’s very difficult for kids to come forward when nobody talks about it.
“Our primary focus is on the well-being of the child, making him or her feel safe and secure so that they can share their account of the allegations and begin their journey to healing.”
The CAC brings together a collaborative, multidisciplinary investigative team in one location to create an integrated, focused process for children.
In 2011, Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford spearheaded development of an advisory board to explore starting a local CAC, following in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. At the time, there were no CACs serving central Pennsylvania.
As part of its sanctions from the Big Ten, Penn State contributed half of the $188,344 portion of what would have been its 2012 football bowl revenues to help launch the center. The University donated the other half to child abuse awareness program Stewards of Children.
Forty-one of 67 counties in Pennsylvania still have no child advocacy center, according to thePennsylvania Chapter of Children’s Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams, a state chapter of the National Children’s Alliance, the accrediting body for the more than 750 CACs in the United States.
In Centre County, the CAC brings together a collaborative, multidisciplinary investigative team — including professionals in such areas as law enforcement, child protective services, medical examiners, prosecutors, victim’s advocates and mental health providers — in one location to create an integrated, focused process for children.
The goal is to spare children from going through the anguish of multiple interviews by multiple investigators at multiple locations. That process, Taylor-Porter explained, effectively “re-traumatizes” children who must repeatedly recount the details of their experience to different parties. Having the child participate in only one interview, with a multidisciplinary team of investigators on hand, avoids considerable additional anguish on the child’s part.
Collaboration, she emphasized, is vital to the CAC’s work.
Centre County already had an excellent multi-disciplinary team, according to Taylor-Porter, but without a centralized location to simplify the communication and teamwork, it was not as effective as it could be. “The center has built on the county’s efforts by giving our multidisciplinary investigative team — the heart of a CAC — a home,” Taylor-Porter said.
When Mount Nittany Health offered space and resources, it seemed like an ideal situation: the CAC would take up residence in Mount Nittany Health’s building at 129 Medical Park Lane, Bellefonte, and give easy access to on-site, specially trained pediatricians for the team. A spacious suite of private, quiet and colorful, child-friendly rooms with state-of-the-art equipment helps to create a comforting, soothing environment for a child who has already experienced abuse or neglect.
“Our ultimate goal is to help a child move from a victim, to a survivor.” –Kristina Taylor-Porter, executive director of the CAC of Centre County
Also vital to the center’s operations is a combination of philanthropy and grants, said Taylor-Porter, who as director is in charge of fundraising efforts. Community support has been strong, she noted, and has allowed the center to gradually expand its efforts, even as additional funding opportunities continue to present themselves.
“For example, we are working on a grant right now with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center to house a victim’s advocate right here at the center,” she said, “which would be tremendously beneficial to children and their families, and would save advocates from having to travel here when a forensic interview is being conducted.”
The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Task Force on Child Protection was formed in 2011 to review state laws and procedures governing child protection. Their efforts so far have resulted in multiple bills that Gov. Tom Corbett has signed into law, including three child protection bills that will create a statewide database to electronically track and report mandatory reporting of child abuse, and facilitate and provide dedicated funds to Pennsylvania CACs and multi-disciplinary teams in fiscal year 2014-15.
“We see our efforts here at the center as a kind of pivotal point in the child’s recovery: we help them first through a portion of the investigation and then we connect them to the healing process,” said Taylor-Porter, who previously was executive director of The CARE Center of Indiana County. “Our ultimate goal is to help a child move from a victim, to a survivor.”
The CAC of Centre County also is a co-sponsor of an upcoming April 23 event featuring speaker James Hmurovich, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, sponsored by Penn State’s Network on Child Protection and Well-Being and the University Park Undergraduate Association. Visit here for more information about the CAC of Centre County.