BELLEFONTE — A child traumatized by abuse or neglect in Centre County might once have been interviewed a police officer. Later, she might tell her story again to a social worker. then to a doctor or a psychologist. Before she was even old enough for preschool, she might have to talk about the most horrible moments of her life half a dozen times before she even started to get help.
With the opening of the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center in Bellefonte on Monday, the experience changes to a child-focused single stop that aims to get past the hard part and begin the healing.
Officials representing 17 different organizations signed the interagency agreement that launches the CAC. The doors of the new offices will open quietly, without fanfare, next week.
Executive Director Kristina Taylor-Porter said the new facility will make the experience as easy as possible for young victims. They will enter into a welcoming and protected environment. Kids will be able to make decisions, taking power back into their own hands with something as simple as choosing which of the different rooms they feel comfortable in for their interviews.
They will have one meeting with investigators instead of a series. Medical examinations, with consent from a parent or guardian, will take place. Referrals will be made to get help, whether physical, emotional or psychological.
“Child abuse does occur, and every child needs an advocate,” said Taylor-Porter.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said the idea was one that all law enforcement officials supported. No one wanted to see children suffer needlessly while trying to help them. That often led to police officers driving to other counties that had a CAC established.
The center is one of the many local responses to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal as ways to improve responses to children’s issues were identified. Parks Miller said that the CAC is an example of the reality of the area.
“This is what we are,” she said.
Judge Bradley P. Lunsford was a driving force behind the creation of the center. Why?
“Because we need it. Our kids deserve it,” he said.
Lunsford is stepping down from the group’s board because of a conflict of interest, as the facility would be collecting evidence and acting on behalf of the victims and prosecutors. However, as he turned over a symbolic gavel to CAC board member Jack Infield, he did not realize that his name will remain affiliated with the mission.
Infield surprised the judge by announcing the creation of the Judge Bradley P. Lunsford Administrative Endowment, which will seek to keep the facility funded.
Lunsford reached out to Infield in the beginning stages of the project to raise $2 million to bring it to fruition. One of the instrumental aspects of making the project work was Mount Nittany Health stepping forward to offer the space. The board, however, wants to make sure that the CAC is able to “pay its own freight” to keep kids safe.
“We have suffered and it is something we can never fix, but we can make it better,” Infield said.
Follow Lori Falce on Twitter @LoriFalce.