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$10M available to help prevent child abuse

WBFO News file photo by Mike Desmond

New York State-approved Child Advocacy Centers have an additional $10 million to help protect children from sexual and physical abuse. The announcement of the two-year federal grant was made to coincide with the beginning of April: Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

Child Advocacy Centers were developed as a way of trying to better coordinate investigations and minimize trauma for child victims of crime. The centers bring together the parties dealing with the child, such as law enforcement and family court officials, identifying just one person to speak to the child while the others view.

“If you imagine a six-year-old child who’s been through a traumatic event, having to sit in a police squad room answering questions or being in a District Attorney’s office,” New York State Office of Victim Services Elizabeth Cronin said. “That can add to the child’s fear and lack of feeling safe.”

The state office, which obtained the $10 million grant, said New York's 36 Child Advocacy Centers can apply for up to $75, 000 annually over two years to pay the salary and benefits of a forensic interviewer, as well as up to $50,000 to purchase and install video recording equipment used during interviews of young abuse victims.

Locally, this includes the Lee Gross Anthone Child Advocacy Center of Child and Adolescent Treatment Services (CATS), as well as the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, a service of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Niagara Executive Director Ann Marie Tucker was excited to hear the funding news.

"Questioning a child about terrible events of abuse often perpetrated by someone who is close to them, someone that they know and trust, is a very challenging task," said Tucker. "So we want to make sure, both for the integrity of the case and also for the support of the child, that the people who conduct those interviews are trained to do them and are following recognized practice standards."

Tucker said her small, regional center opens about 250-300 cases annually. About 75 percent of those are for suspected sexual abuse. Others involve children who witness a violent act, cases of physical abuse or other maltreatment, including exposure to drug behavior.

"I've been doing this work for a very long time and we're just seeing very severe situations, where a number of children affected, sometimes severe injuries for children, even in worst-case scenarios, fatalities of children," she said. "So in my personal opinion, I think not only are seeing increases in the number of reports, but the severity of the situations that are the subjects of those reports are extreme."

However, there is not one factor contributing to the change, Tucker said. There is poverty and the breakdown of families without reliable caregivers. However, she believes drug abuse is increasingly the problem. More and more, she said, it is an overlapping factor in local child abuse cases.

Funding applications are due on May 12, with grants scheduled to be awarded in early summer.

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