Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Child advocacy center

By Noelle Tedford

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.--The Clinton County Health and Safety committee meeting was held on Monday Nov. 9, 2015. The committee consisted of Robert Hall, public safety and county legislator; Jonathan Beach, county legislator; John Gallagher, county legislator; Pete Keenan; Michael Zurlow, county administrator; and Robby Timmons, legislator elect.
            During the meeting Richelle Gregory spoke about the Child Advocacy Center. The CAC is a child-focused center that facilitates the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of child abuse while helping abused children heal mentally and physically. Gregory runs the CAC for Clinton County, Essex County, Franklin County and St. Regis Mohawk County.
            “Our mission is to decrease trauma to victims for children of sexual and severe physical abuse,” said Gregory. “We decrease trauma by having a child-friendly interview station, instead of in the home where the perpetration probably occurred.”
            Gregory works with a team of professionals including: Department of Social Services, state police, city PD, mental health, probation, medical home, pediatrician, and the District Attorney. Outside of her disciplinary team Gregory partners with Beekmantown Central School. Technology has provided a breakthrough for CAC with the process of reporting abuse. Across the street from Beekmantown Central School is a room with a satellite feed to the school. This allows for victims to report abuse without people in the school becoming aware of CPS and CAC conducting an investigation. This helps the child remain more discrete during their reporting process. Beekmantown is the first case study to do this.
            The CAC opened in 2009. In 2010, 90 children reported being victims of abuse. That number is up to 230 for 2015 states Gregory. With the use of CAC centers children feel safer and more secure.
            “It’s about creating a safety net for these kids and the better our net gets the more children we can bring in with community education and better services,” said Gregory.
            Rich Holcomb, the Deputy Commissioner at Plattsburgh Department Social Services explained that the relationship between DSS and CAC is a very strong one.
            “CAC works closely with our CPS unit,” said Holcomb. “They provide a nice environment for kids to help reduce trauma.”
            Another member of the DSS is Christine Peters. Peters is the Director of Legal and Services for the Foster Care branch.
            “Basically the CAC is designed to minimize impact of trauma on children. We try to be the single point of access interviewing at CAC in a child-friendly environment,” said Peters. “Our review team coordinates any examination or procedures that need to be done right at the CAC.”
            Eliminating multiple interviews and examinations is a huge benefit for the abused child’s psyche. Instead, children are brought to the CAC where they tell their story to their assigned case manager. While the story is told law enforcement, lawyers, and CPS listens from behind a mirrored glass window. This way the child feels safe and is familiar with the case manager. The hope is to minimize trauma and proactively seek the appropriate measures to begin the healing process.
            Recently the CAC was given a new vehicle for transportation.
            “How are you making out with the new vehicle,” asked Hall at the Health and Safety meeting.
            Gregory explained that she decided not to detail the new vehicle with the CAC logo for confidentiality purposes. The CAC wants children to feel as safe as possible in every aspect of recovery. With her annual grant, Gregory recently brought in Cory Jewell Jensen. Jensen has been working with child abuse cases for over 50 years. Jensen travels around speaking to and educating communities on how to treat and protect from child abuse.
            Legislator Zurlow said: “The program has been good and it hasn’t cost us a nickel yet.”
            Child abuse is a delicate matter that must be approached with the utmost caution. Gregory and her team at CAC are providing a safe-haven for children to go and recover from seemingly devastating situations while, at the same time, working with the abusers to make sure the abuse doesn’t continue.


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