Their View: Child advocacy center marks 1 year of serving Centre County, region

February marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County.

Creating a gold-standard state-of-the-art center is no easy task. The effort involved an active steering committee, the support of the Centre County Child Protection and Safety Collaborative and a community that supported this project from its inception. I was honored to spearhead this effort, but the greatest honor was the opportunity to collaborate with child advocates and community organizations to move this project from vision to reality.

I am mindful of the fact that the primary reason for our success was through the generosity and efforts of Mount Nittany Health CEO Steve Brown, the hospital board of trustees and the entire Mount Nittany Health family.

A children’s advocacy center is a child-friendly environment designed to meet the needs of children who are alleged to have been abused.

Prior to child advocacy centers, if a child disclosed abuse, the resulting investigation involved professionals who did not work together but, rather in their own “silos.”

Child protective services, prosecution, law enforcement, victim services, and medical and mental health services each had a different role in the investigation and intervention process.

As a result, the child was subjected to multiple, repetitive interviews, and locations such as police stations, busy emergency rooms, or a principal’s office where a child only went if they were “in trouble.” All of the professionals trying to help were subjecting the child to additional trauma by forcing them to repeat the horror, embarrassment, shame, and humiliation of the abuse.

In contrast, the child advocacy center concept has the child as the hub of a wheel; all the professionals who help that child and make up the multidisciplinary team are the spokes.

Rather than making the child travel to each professional separately and having each system work alone, this concept requires each professional come to the child, acting in a coordinated fashion.

The coordination promotes better understanding of and respect for one another’s roles and expertise, more informed case management decisions, and most importantly, a minimization of the trauma children can suffer after disclosure in the subsequent investigation.

The efforts of Mount Nittany Health made our dream of a gold-standard, state-of-the-art children’s advocacy center a reality.

It was not long ago that I received a phone call from Brown to join him for a meeting and a tour of the hospital. After learning about our vision of a CAC, his words to me still ring clear in my ears: “This is something that we need to be a part of. How can we help?”

As a result, Mount Nittany Health dedicated a third of its Bellefonte pediatrics center as well as $320,000 to renovate the facility to meet our standards. An additional $100,000 was dedicated for design, permitting, voice and data systems, fixtures, furniture and ancillary equipment.

Additionally, $165,958 was earmarked for salaries and benefits for the center’s executive director and staff. As a result, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County is one of the few centers in the country that has trained physicians on site to examine children who are alleged to have been victims of abuse. This entire effort represents an enormous commitment to the health, safety and welfare of the children of Centre County and surrounding counties.

Since opening in February, the center has received more than 200 referrals for services. This includes forensic interviews, medical exams and case reviews. Our center provides services to not only Centre County, but also five surrounding counties.

The center handles between six to eight cases per week. Of the cases referred, 77 percent are due to some allegation of sexual abuse, whether it be as a victim, witness to assault or screening for abuse. 63 percent of cases receive a medical examination from trained physicians from Mount Nittany Medical Center.

So, as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of our Children’s Advocacy Center, let us move forward with the notion that this was truly a collaboration of our community. From the Child Protection and Safety Collaborative, the steering committee, community organizations such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs of Centre County and Mount Nittany Health, we have truly improved the lives of the children of our community.

The tragic events from several years ago were certainly a wake-up call for our community. In typical fashion, our community responded in a collective fashion by asking, “How can we help?”