Child abuse and neglect is a significant issue in our culture, bringing physical and emotional damage to children and their families. This abuse was brought to the forefront locally as news broke with the Sandusky scandal, and Centre County became inundated with national media attention for these heinous crimes. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at national rates of child abuse and neglect. Using US statistics for calendar year 2010, approximately 350,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse and neglect.1
- 78.3 percent of these children were victims of neglect (274,050)
- 17.6 percent were physically abused (61,600)
- 9.2 percent were sexually abused (32,200)
- Young children under age four represent 33 percent of the victims and 79.4 percent of the estimated 1,560 fatalities from abuse and neglect in 2010
- It is believed that one in four girls and one in six boys are molested at some point in their lifetime
What is perhaps most dreadful about the statistics above is that these are only the reported cases, and as we all intuitively know, many cases go unreported because children either are afraid to talk about crimes committed against them, or can’t comprehend these horrific crimes.
All of us in Centre County have been in a state of shock over the Sandusky scandal, and some community leaders hope to use this increased state of awareness to develop a local child advocacy center. A Child Advocacy Center (CAC) uses a child-centered approach to support children who have been abused and help them recover from such a physical and emotional tragedy. A CAC is a safe, child and family-friendly space where kids come on a non-emergent basis for evaluation and treatment of abuse. This building is one place where all the parties looking out for the welfare of the child come to the child, as opposed to the old system where the child was taken from place to place, police station to Children and Youth Services office, enduring multiple exams and interviews and in a real sense, victimizing the child again. This multiple interview/multiple location situation occurs in most counties in Pennsylvania. There are only 22 accredited CACs in PA, and none in the central part of our state. Based on a model that was developed by the National Children’s Alliance, a CAC provides the child and non-offending family members a non-threatening place to go where everyone involved in the process of evaluation, examination, treatment and prosecution comes to them. The following agencies collaborate through a CAC to contribute to its success in supporting kids who have been abused:
- District Attorney’s Office
- Police Departments
- Children and Youth Services
- Mental Health Services
- Victim Advocates
- Medical Care
All of these components play a role, both in taking care of the mental and physical needs of the children and their families, and investigating abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.
In the wake of the local scandal, a group was brought together by Judge Brad Lunsford, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, and representatives from all the above agencies to look at developing a CAC locally. Mount Nittany Health, under the leadership of CEO Steve Brown, agreed to incorporate the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center and donated the facility to make the dream a reality. Using vacant space in a former medical office building in front of the Mount Nittany Physician Group offices in Bellefonte, the plans for building the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center are nearing completion and we hope to have the center open and operational by early fall. The building will share space with a newly expanded Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics office in Bellefonte. The center will also provide a place to disseminate information and provide training for those working with children in abusive or neglectful settings. Medical care and evaluation will be provided by Mount Nittany Physician Group pediatricians Kristie Kaufman, MD, Rachel Schwab, MD, and Craig Collison, MD. An advisory board for the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center has been established and includes the following people:
- Brad Lunsford, Esq., Centre County Judge
- Stacy Parks Miller, Esq., Centre County District Attorney
- Tom King, State College Chief of Police
- Peter Montminy, PhD, Child Psychologist, MidStep Centers for Child Development
- Pamela McCloskey, MED, Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist, Forensic Interviewer
- Jack Infield, Regional President, Susquehanna Bank
- Rod Beard, Esq., Beard Law Office
- Julia Sprinkle, Director, Centre County Children and Youth Services
- Patricia Best, DEd, Retired Superintendent, State College Area School District
- Kimberly Neely, MS, Director, The Foundation for Mount Nittany Medical Center
- Craig Collison, MD, Medical Director, Pediatrician, Mount Nittany Physician Group
- Julia Cronin Rater, Esq., McQuaide Blasko Law Offices
- Dawn McKee, Special Projects Coordinator, Centre County Women’s Resource Center
Look for more information as the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center prepares to open this fall. We will be providing services to children and families who need us throughout Centre County, and will be offering to serve kids and families in neighboring counties as well. It will take an army of us to create what Judge Lunsford calls, “the gold standard” in CACs, but our kids are worth it!
We will need your help and support. To contribute to the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center, please contact Kim Neely at The Foundation for Mount Nittany Medical Center at email@example.com or 814.231.7117. Thank you in advance for your generosity.
1Child Maltreatment 2010 (http://archive.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/cm10.pdf).