The first satellite collaborative children’s advocacy center in Pennsylvania opened this week at Washington Hospital.
Child advocacy centers are designed to provide a safe environment where children can be interviewed about alleged maltreatment.
Known as “A Child’s Place” at Washington, the center also provides a place where child welfare professionals, law enforcement officials, medical personnel and representatives of victim services programs can collaborate. This type of coordinated approach is designed to lessen the trauma inflicted on a child by reducing the number of times he or she is interviewed, and it allows joint planning to determine the best course of legal action and support for a victim of child abuse.
The facility’s medical director is Dr. Mary Carrasco, who works for Mercy Life Sciences. The center also will provide professional staff trained in the forensic interviewing of children and specialized medical examinations.
The importance of making child advocacy centers available to all children in Pennsylvania was part of a report issued by the Task Force on Child Protection, which was formed by the General Assembly following several high-profile child sexual abuse cases that occurred in Pennsylvania, most notoriously the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University.
The report recommended a child advocacy center be located within a two-hour drive of all children in Pennsylvania.
The center was formerly known as “A Voice for Me” Child Advocacy Center of Washington, which closed in the spring of 2013. During the interim, Washington County cases of suspected child abuse were referred to child advocacy centers at Mercy or Children’s hospitals.
“It was quite complicated,” said Kimberly Rogers, administrator of Washington County CYS, of the logistics of using a child advocacy service in Pittsburgh. She estimated that between five and 20 children from Washington County use the service each month.
Rogers said she decided the Voice for Me center should be closed shortly after she became CYS administrator in 2012. Staffed by CYS employees, the center posed what she saw as a potential conflict of interest in CYS interviewers recommending prosecution in which fellow CYS employees would participate.
Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration, said the situation would not be a legal conflict of interest, but he said having the center operate under an independent entity was a matter of “best practices.”
Mercy Hospital’s child advocacy center, accredited by the National Children’s Alliance, is applying for the same accreditation for the satellite center at Washington Hospital. If it attains this status, it will be the first satellite center in the state to be accredited, Rogers said.
The endeavor was made possible through the joint efforts of the Washington Health System, A Child’s Place at Mercy, the Washington County district attorney’s office, Washington County Children and Youth Services, the Washington County commissioners and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Care Center, which provides treatment, advocacy and support for both adult and child victims of sexual abuse.
The commissioners on Thursday approved with the entities a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to respond jointly and effectively to any allegations of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and serious physical neglect toward children in Washington County.