TRENTON – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Kevin O’Toole, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Joe Vitale that would better protect against child abuse and improve the recovery services for victims through the creation of a statewide network of Child Advocacy Centers was approved by the Senate today. The bill, S-972, would fund and facilitate centers that would help child protection services to achieve national accreditation standards.
“This is an effective way of creating a system that stands up for the rights of children and helps protect them against abuse and neglect,” said Senator Sweeney. “These centers employ a coordinated, team-oriented approach for treatment, prevention, investigations and prosecutions in cases of child abuse. We want to help the victims, remove the dangers and give them the nurturing help and support all children deserve.”
The child abuse prevention services would be modelled after Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center, known as “Wynona’s House,” a nationally-recognized facility in Newark that pioneered the holistic approach to the treatment of child victims.
“Wynona’s House established a unique model that has proven successful in caring for child victims in a nurturing and compassionate way that aids their recovery,” said Senator Ruiz, a cosponsor of the bill. “I am proud to sponsor this legislation that promotes the center’s approach as a standard for the state. As the senator serving in the seat once held by Senator Lipman, it is especially meaningful that we can carry on her legacy with this bill and help to extend the important work that is being done to help children at Wynona’s House in Essex County throughout the state.”
Founded 15 years ago, Wynona’s House is the designated Child Advocacy Center of Essex County. It is named after the late Senator Wynona Lipman, who was an early leader in fighting for the rights of children and women.
The bill would allocate $10 million to a “Child Advocacy Center-Multidisciplinary Team Fund” to establish, construct and improve advocacy centers in each county. The legislation would also create an advisory board empowered to establish a certification program for the advocacy centers to ensure that certified centers and teams comply with the accreditation standards developed by the National Children’s Alliance. Among the services covered by the multidisciplinary teams are cultural diversity, forensic interviews, victim support and advocacy, medical evaluation, mental health services, case review and case tracking.
“Having accredited child advocacy centers in every county, along with taking a more responsible approach to coordinating all the services will help put an end to further abuse,” said Senator O’Toole, a cosponsor of the bill. “If we don’t address the problems of child abuse and neglect in a timely manner families will suffer and the state will also suffer on a social and economic level.”
Fiscal implications include increased social costs, behavioral health treatment costs, Medicaid costs, and in the long-term, unemployment, substance abuse treatment costs and incarceration. According to national studies, advocacy centers can save as much as $1,000 per child abuse case and result in effective prosecution and better outcomes for the child.
“We need to ensure that we have the right professionals with the right skills and training for dealing with child abuse victims,” said Senator Vitale. “To suffer from the physical and emotional aftermath of abuse or neglect is a heavy burden for a child of any age and it can leave lifelong psychological scars that should be addressed at a young age.”
There are 11 child advocacy centers in New Jersey, three of which are operated by non-profits and the other eight belong to the local county prosecutor’s office. Most of the counties have multidisciplinary teams belonging to county prosecutor’s offices.
The bill was approved with a vote of 35 – 0.