Leaders Open Youngster Advocacy Heart To Assist Sexually And Bodily Abused Youngsters And Youth

Santa Clara County’s officials on Thursday unveiled the new Child Advocacy Center, which aims to reduce trauma to children and adolescents who report sexual and physical abuse.

In the past, when children reported such abuse, they were “mixed up” by numerous agencies doing three to five interviews, which can result in children reliving the trauma.

With this new facility, reporting minors only need to interview one specific person while others who may also need to interview the child can listen through a one-sided mirror.

The observation room, designed for toys and other amenities, also allows those who may need a child interview to have the interviewer suggest questions through an earpiece.

“That means this one interview will be used by all the different groups,” said Assistant Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shaprio. “And it’s being recorded … so that if it needs to be used in court, it can be used in that place too.”

These different groups include law enforcement, prosecutors, family and child protection services, medical experts, and other non-profit lawyers, each with an office in the building to provide a central location.

“(The one-on-one interview) reduces the child’s trauma by not reliving the trauma over and over,” said Gibbons-Shaprio.

It’s a model that has been tried and tested across the country, said Dr. Marlene Sturm, medical director at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

“Child advocacy centers focus on the victim,” Strum wrote in a January joint letter. “All agencies work together to provide the victim with expert, compassionate and efficient care in one place.”

And those in charge say this center, which is slated to open for children on April 19th, couldn’t come at a better time.

This is because housing arrangements, school closings, and being at home for extended periods of time have all led to an increase in child abuse and neglect.

In March 2020, minors made up half of calls for the first time, according to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Of the minors who responded, 67 percent identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79 percent said they lived with this perpetrator.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen said many of these abuses are also under-reported.

“When children are victims, the first person they tell is often a teacher or coach, or another adult,” said Rosen. “With COVID (kids) the adults were really limited in being able to be around, but the abuse didn’t stop”

He noted that he suspects that more children will report such abuse once the children go back to school and things open up again.

However, it wasn’t the pandemic that sparked this idea.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the idea was one the county had struggled to make for decades.

It wasn’t until February 2020 that Chavez and former supervisor and now Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, tabled a referral calling for the center to be set up by December 2020.

In July 2020, the board approved $ 6 million for the new center.

“I can’t stress this enough, it was having the right people ready at the right time,” said Chavez.

She noted that the prosecution played an important role in ensuring that this happened. This was also possible because the county recently owned the O’Connor Hospital.

Non-profit interest groups that are joining forces with the county to support these children also celebrated the new center.

“When all partners here come together with a clear mission to serve children and their families seamlessly, communication will improve and system gaps will be reduced,” said Erin O’Brian, CEO and president of Community Solutions. “Ensure that all traumatized survivors are treated with dignity and that their rights are protected.”

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