WATERVILLE — More than 300 child victims of sexual abuse have been helped by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kennebec & Somerset Counties since it opened on Chase Avenue in May 2012.
On Monday, officials announced that the center, the first of its kind in Maine, has been accredited by the National Children’s Alliance.
The center puts all of the necessary people and services in one place not only to help children get help and treatment, but also to investigate and prosecute cases. The center is a program of the Winthrop-based Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center.
Medical professionals and law enforcement officials, as well as the district attorney’s office and Maine Department of Health and Human Services, work together as part of the program.
About 40 representatives of those agencies turned out Monday for a news conference at the police department to announce the national accreditation.
Donna Strickler, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center, said her organization helps victims and families of sexual violence and that Monday marked a new day of enhancing those services for child victims and their families through the child advocacy center. Strickler said there are 750 such child centers throughout the country.
“Accreditation of Children’s Advocacy Centers through the National Children’s Alliance assures the highest standards of care is provided to victims,” Strickler said. “Accredited membership in NCA requires that the programs meet specific standards; these standards ensure effective, efficient and consistent delivery of services.”
The National Children’s Alliance provides financial help, training, technical assistance, research and education to communities, child abuse professionals and children’s advocacy centers in the U.S. to support child abuse intervention, advocacy and prevention.
Strickler said having the accreditation creates an opportunity for the center to get additional funding through grants.
Peter McAvoy Sr., of Oakland, donated a $10,000 challenge grant to help the center, according to Strickler. “He’s been an incredible supporter,” she said.
MaineGeneral Health provided space for the child advocacy center at its Seton Campus in Waterville. When renovations to the Thayer Center for Health on North Street are complete in the fall of 2014, the child center will move there, according to MaineGeneral spokeswoman Sarah Webster.
Children are referred to the center by the district attorney’s office, law enforcement and DHHS.
Children and their family members meet with a family services coordinator and then all the officials from various departments collect information about the case at the same time.
Deputy Police Chief Charles Rumsey said the program has strengthened the relationship among law enforcement, child protective services, mental health, sexual assault crisis services and the district attorney’s office around the investigation and prosecution of child sex abuse cases.
“But it is more than that,” he said. “We understand that no investigation, regardless of how aggressive it is and whether it results in an arrest or prosecution, can truly be considered a success if a child suffers unnecessary secondary emotional trauma through repeated interviews or investigative methods that aren’t considered best practice.”
The child center’s use of a collaborative method and trained forensic investigators has formalized and improved officials’ response to child abuse crimes, Rumsey said.
Ricker Hamilton, deputy commissioner of programs for DHHS, represented Gov. Paul LePage and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew at Monday’s event.
Hamilton congratulated those who helped make the advocacy center a reality and said he looks forward to the development of more such centers in the state. They play a vital role in helping to reduce the trauma children and their families experience as a result of sexual abuse, he said.
LePage, he said, supports the center, whose national accreditation represents an important milestone that deserves recognition and celebration.
Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, the accrediting organization, said in a written statement that the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center is to be commended for its excellent work serving child victims.
“As the national association and accrediting body for CACs across the country, our goal is to ensure that every victim of child abuse has access to high quality services that result from professional collaboration,” Huizar said.
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: