“I have always said, my goal is that every child should just live a happy, healthy life, just being able to be a child. That's what we want the experience to be going forward for them.” - Sarah Wilson, Director, Pike County Child Advocacy Center (CAC)
MILFORD - Funding has arrived to provide for a director of Pike County’s Child Advocacy Center (CAC). The center allows for a child that is a victim or witness in a criminal case, to be interviewed only once by a single interviewer, rather than face the trauma of multiple interviews by various agencies involved in the probe.
Sarah Wilson, Pike County Senior Deputy District Attorney, will also be serving in this new role at the CAC, District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, announced.
He and Wilson discussed the new position and the work of the CAC, at the county commissioners’ meeting, February 6.
A grant totaling $74,973 was obtained through the Penn State Endowment Act, created in the court settlement reached in the child abuse case lodged against former Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky.
The funding covers 2018-2019. Tonkin said the funds allow improving the CAC program. Recently the county became an Associate Member of the National Children’s Alliance. The next step will be fully accredited membership,which will allow for more grant opportunities to keep CAC operating in Pike County, he said.
A second grant, totaling $47,000, was secured from the fees the state collects on birth certificates. This funding enables the county to employ the CAC Forensic Interviewer, Molly Carson.
“We all know about sad things that happen to children, and it’s a sad state of our society, but there’s something we can do about it and that is what our team is working on with the CAC,” Wilson said.
A child victim will hopefully come into contact with a “mandated reporter” such as a school counselor or pastor, who will alert the toll free Child Line, Wilson explained. A report then goes direct to the Pike County Children & Youth (C&Y) Services, the county’s primary partner on the Multi-Disciplinary Investigative Team.
C&Y then calls the District Attorney’s Office which triggers a joint response to help the child.
The child is brought by vehicle to CAC. “That whole experience should be non-traumatic. From the time they disclose and that report is made, shouldn’t be questioning the child about what happened, just making the child feel safe and comfortable…,” Wilson said. The child is greeted at the CAC in a “warm, welcoming fashion” and taken to the interview room.
The setting is made to be comfortable. The forensic interviewer talks to the child in a non-leading way about what is going on with the child. A camera meanwhile is recording the session, and being seen downstairs by the investigative team.
She said that the team discusses what can be done for the child and what are the next steps in the investigation. Victim’s Services, the D.A.’s Office, an investigator and C&Y take part, as well as another agency as appropriate.
Previously, the child would have had to endure multiple interviews, having to go through the experience again and again.
In addition to Molly Carson, Sara Loeb serves as a forensic interviewer. Loeb was hired last spring as the county’s Special Victims Advocate.
“Hopefully we have a child has maybe disclosed something if something is happening to them, and they leave there going on with their lives,” Wilson said. “I have always said, my goal is that every child should just live a happy, healthy life, just being able to be a child. That’s what we want the experience to be going forward for them.”
The team works to be sure that child receives support and both the child and “non-offending caregiver” has access to support agencies, she said.
Tonkin said that law enforcement also collaborates with the team, which helps C&Y determine how to handle a case in the best interest of the child. This may include a safety plan, or seeking court approval for emergency custody.
Pike County District Attorney’s Office worked with Safe Haven of Pike County to establish the CAC. Funding was received in 2016 through the Penn State Endowment Act.
[See the Wednesday print edition for more meeting items.]
The Pike County Commissioners meet on the first and third Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Administration Building, 506 Broad St., Milford.