Mobile child advocacy center set

State and local representatives toured the new Mobile Child Advocacy Center on Wednesday. From the left is Child and Family Services Specialist Melaney Szklenka, Mental Health Association Executive Director Janine Dykeman, Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Sheila Poole, and Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O’Hara)

JOHNSTOWN — The Office of Children and Family Services, along with the Office of Victim Services, joined forces to improve services for children who are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse by creating a Mobile Child Advocacy Center.

Representatives from both agencies on Wednesday had the opportunity to tour the mobile center, which allows the Johnstown-based Regional Child Advocacy Center of Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties to travel to children who are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse and gives them a safe and comfortable space to work with those children.

The mobile CAC is the only one of its kind in the greater Capital Region.

“New York is a diverse state. There are urban, suburban and rural areas,” said Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin. “[But] there is a lack of transportation [to assist these children].”

Cronin said a majority of the children they work with have to travel far distances to get to the district attorney’s office, which she said, after someone has gone through a traumatic experience, they’re not going to want to travel a far distance.

“The office of victim service is always seeking new partnerships that will allow us to enhance services of crime, especially those who are most vulnerable — children and the elderly,” Cronin said. “We heard consistently from advocates who work with children about the need for additional child advocacy centers, particularly in rural communities. This partnership with the Office of Children and Family Services will help ensure that children who are victims of sexual or physical abuse can receive the services they need, regardless of where they live, which will help them on the path to recovery.”

According to a news release, child advocacy centers bring protective services, law enforcement, medical providers, advocacy and therapeutic resources together when allegations of child abuse or maltreatment are made in an effort to make the investigation process less traumatic for children. The mobile CAC is one of seven funded through the state agency partnership, which aims to better serve children and families who live in rural communities and counties that cover a large geographic area.

“Child advocacy centers are a national model of child-protective investigative best practice and OCFS is proud to bring these mobile services to families in rural areas where access to needed services can be challenging. When children suffer the trauma of physical or sexual abuse, the CAC streamlines the investigative process and provides a coordinated, timely and effective response to put children and families on a path to healing,” said Sheila Poole, commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services. “Having the ability to bring a coordinated team approach closer to where the child and family live will be huge benefit.”

According to the release, to purchase the mobile center, the Mental Health Association received a $250,000 grant and will receive $50,000 annually for three years to cover costs of operation and maintenance. All seven mobile CAC’s were custom made by Winnebago’s Specialty Vehicles division.

“The team at Winnebago is honored to see our commercial shell vehicles used in the important work supporting children and families through the outreach services of the Office of Children and Family Services and Office of Victim Services,” said Robert Kim, director of Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicles. “It’s clear that for some families traveling to a fixed location to obtain services is not practical. We applaud the state of New York for innovating their outreach services beyond brick and mortar buildings by providing mobile solutions.”

All seven mobile CAC’s are fully equipped with a waiting area, a child-friendly interview room, an observation room, bathroom facilities, as well as recording an observation equipment. The units will be staffed with a victim advocate and enable team members to choose a centrally located, safe place to meet the child and family in their own community. The goal is to reduce trauma for the families by increasing their accessibility to services in rural communities and counties with a large geographic area.

“Transportation for many people in the communities we serve can be a challenge,” said Janine Dykeman, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery Counties. “The mobile child advocacy center enables us to better respond to child victims of physical or sexual abuse and their appropriate family members or guardians by bringing the investigation and victim services to the families wherever they live in the three-county region.”

By Josh Bovee

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