Legislative Efforts to Fund Children’s Advocacy Centers Continues
I don’t know if there is anything more tragic that a child being physically or sexually abused. Yet, it is happening to thousands of kids each year right here in Pennsylvania. It was through my desire to want to help these children in some way that I first learned about the vital work of Pennsylvania’s children’s advocacy centers (CACs). These are offices tailored specifically for children to go and be heard, get the help they need for medical and emotional healing, and provide law enforcement with the information needed to prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, there are only 21 CACs among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and they are only supported through federal funding, grants, donations and fundraising events. There is no funding at the state level, and funding is the greatest barrier to establishing and maintaining the CACs.
That is why for the past nine years I have been singing the praises of CACs and continually putting forth legislation to provide a recurring, steady stream of funding for these valuable centers.
Just this month, I have introduced a resolution urging Penn State University to dedicate its $60 million endowment fund, established following an agreement with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to create and maintain children’s advocacy centers (CACs) statewide.
The endowment money is supposed to be used to help prevent child abuse, and children’s advocacy centers are proven, effective centers where children can receive help. They also work with the surrounding community to raise awareness of physical and sexual child abuse. I can think of no better way in which to have this money make a difference than to support CACs.
In fact, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has stated publicly its belief that “if Centre County had had a children’s advocacy center, there may have been a means to stop Jerry Sandusky sooner.”
CACs have become experts in bringing together doctors, nurses, prosecutors, social workers and law enforcement in order to provide a unique and essential program of treatment and healing for children and their families. The centers have professionals on hand trained to deal with young children, using age-appropriate language and communication tools. They also understand the difficulty many children have in retelling their stories of abuse over and over again, so by using a collaborative approach, children typically only have to tell their story once. This model of care gives abused children the best chance to recover and also provides the most effective way to gather evidence to bring perpetrators to justice.
In further attempts to secure funding for CACs, earlier this session, I introduced legislation that would create a non-lapsing, restricted receipts account within the State Treasury called the Child Abuse Multidisciplinary Response Account. As introduced, the account would be funded by adding a $2 fee to certain court filings. The account would be administered by the Department of Public Welfare. Grants would be distributed to applicants that would be selected based upon criteria prepared by the district attorney of the county.
House Bill 1739 is currently before the House Judiciary Committee and was the subject of a public hearing in July.
A suggested amendment to the bill, which I would wholeheartedly support, would place a fee of $10 on child abuse background checks performed by the Department of Public Welfare for prospective school and day care employees. This would raise an even higher amount of funding for the account.
I am hopeful in light of this year’s media spotlight on the prevalence of child abuse that legislative efforts to support Pennsylvania CACs will be pushed to the forefront.
State Representative Julie Harhart
183rd District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman