Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pennsylvania Task Force Promotes Advocacy Centers

A task force formed in response to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal recommend that all children in Pennsylvania have better access to centers that specialize in investigating child abuse, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Task Force on Child Protection recommended that a children's advocacy center be located within a two-hour drive of every child in the state, David Heckler, the Bucks County district attorney and chairman of the task force, told the Post-Gazette.

"If there had been a children's advocacy center in Centre County in 1998 to 2000," Mr. Heckler said, "I'm telling you they would have heard about Jerry Sandusky then, and a decade of suffering by his victims would have been prevented."

There are currently 21 Children's Advocacy Centers in the state. However, they receive no state money. The nearest advocacy center to State College is in Harrisburg, a little more than an hour's drive.

The task force recommended sweeping changes, including new crimes, revised criminal codes and new policies, reported the Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania law requires multidisciplinary teams, but teams in some counties do not meet regularly or have not developed protocols. Mr. Heckler said the task force recommends "putting teeth into the law."

While multidisciplinary teams are the foundation of effective child-abuse investigations, children's advocacy centers are an extra layer of protection.

They are places, often hospitals, designed to help children feel safe. They employ doctors, nurses and mental health practitioners who examine and treat children. The child is interviewed once, by a forensic examiner skilled at eliciting crucial information.

"Children's advocacy centers ensure justice," Mr. Heckler told the Post-Gazette.

About half of the state's 67 counties either do not have an advocacy center or have no arrangements with one in a nearby county. More are needed, said Abbie Newman, president of the state association of Children's Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams.

"Children need to be brought to a place where they can be comfortable, as opposed to a police station," she said.

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