The drive to create a place in Centre County where children who are victims of abuse or witnesses to crimes can be interviewed in a friendly, comforting environment is moving closer to being a reality.
Officials have filed paperwork with the state incorporating the organization as a nonprofit. It’s called the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center.
The idea for such a center in Centre County is not new, as local officials have wanted one here for years. But calls for protecting children have grown after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case unfolded here, and the organizers want to find something positive in the wake of the scandal that has rocked the local community.
“I am extremely pleased with the progress made in establishing a children’s advocacy center in Centre County,” said county Judge Bradley P. Lunsford, the lead organizer. “A lot is happening, and it is happening at a much quicker pace than I would have ever anticipated.”
The effort has grown out of the Centre County Child Protection and Safety Collaborative, which formed in the wake of the Sandusky scandal in November. One of the goals of the collaborative was the center and the other is educating the public about abuse and prevention measures.
Members of the collaborative are hoping the center is operational before the end of 2013.
Organizers think they’ll need $2 million for the center to be operational, and they will begin a fundraising drive soon.
The concept of children’s advocacy center works much the same way a children’s hospital aims to comfort and calm young patients.
At a children’s advocacy center, the child goes through one interview, which is done by someone trained to deal with victimized children. The forensic interview, as it’s called, spares children from a process that involves multiple interviews, with police, caseworkers, prosecutors and others.
The one interview by the forensic interviewer is recorded so authorities can either watch it live or watch it later. Either way, the child does not see the authorities during the interview.
From the police’s standpoint, the one interview provides a better method of collecting evidence. It also speeds up the investigative process, organizers said.
The approach seeks to reduce the trauma and interaction with the child while providing support to that victim and his or her family.
From a prosecutor’s perspective, the evidence collected from the one-stop-shop interview can bolster a court case. It can reduce claims by defendants that the person conducting the interview steered the child into an answer, said District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, one of the organizers.
“The feedback and support I have received already about this project has been incredibly positive, and knowing the generosity of spirit of this community, I believe we will have a CAC in Centre County,” Parks Miller said. “Centre County never disappoints in supporting such an important project.”
Parks Miller said employees who work in her office, as well as law enforcement and CYS, will train soon on working as a team to investigate, treat and prosecute child-abuse cases.
“The goal is one single interview with the child, in one child-friendly place, followed by appropriate support and follow up care to start the healing process,” she said.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT