A Lifeline for Child Abuse Victims: Pennsylvania Advocates Call for Wider Reach of Child Advocacy Centers

Roundtable discusses contributions of Children's Advocacy CentersSubmitted Image

HARRISBURG, PA — In the face of child abuse, relatives and caregivers often struggle to find essential services and support. Pennsylvania’s Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) deliver safety, justice, and healing by coordinating and providing these necessary services. Recent discussions highlight a vital need for their work, but also underscore the need to expand their reach across the state.

In a roundtable discussion hosted by the House Majority Policy Committee at the UPMC Child Advocacy Center of Central Pennsylvania (one of 41 CACs in the state), important figures came together to push the importance of CACs.

“If we really want to support children and their healing, then we need to prioritize Children’s Advocacy Centers,” stated roundtable host Representative Justin Fleming.

An essential cog in the machine of child protection, CACs facilitate a harmonized response among all investigative agencies. Their mission is to provide a safe space where children receive a timely response and all the necessary services to recover from the nightmare of abuse.

In a year, they can provide aid for over 15,000 children, helping these young ones recover from not just neglect and physical abuse, but also sexual abuse and trauma, testified House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro.

The CAC of Central PA, one of the first-ever in the state, has been pivotal in this cause. Each year, the center coordinates medical examination and mental health services for between 1,100 and 1,200 children in Dauphin, Cumberland, and surrounding counties following signs of abuse reported by law enforcement or child protective services.

“We want to assure every child in the state has access to a children’s advocacy center with everything a child needs to be safe and heal from abuse,” asserted CACs of PA Executive Director Chris Kirchner.

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A key aspect of their process is the forensic interview, a vital tool conducted in the presence of investigative agencies to understand the nature of abuse or type of trauma experienced by the child.

However, the journey isn’t without its hurdles. Officials shared the difficulties they encounter during investigations, particularly when the lines of communication between agencies blurs, causing complications for the child and the criminal investigations.

Those are the situations when the role of a CAC is indispensable to provide the services these children need, not only to survive but also heal from their traumas, explained Cumberland County District Attorney Sean McCormack.

Statistics from 2022 show that 75% of the 15,735 children served by CACs in Pennsylvania received services following alleged sexual abuse, while 20% received help after alleged physical abuse, and the remaining 5% following alleged neglect, witnessing violence or drug endangerment.

State Representative Dave Madsen highlighted a notable shortfall in the state’s current coverage, particularly in rural areas where there are no CACs in close proximity. “CACs step in to meet children at their level to provide safety, and while they have seen growth in the last 25 years we learned that there’s more work to be done in making sure all children have these resources.”

Indeed, as Pennsylvania seeks a lifeline for its abused children, the expansion of CACs across the state stands as a priority. As these centers continue the fight to protect the state’s most vulnerable, their work must be bolstered and broadened for the security of every child in every corner of the state.

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