Funds help child abuse victims

Economic stimulus money expands hospital program for kids

HUDSON–The number of child abuse cases in the county, including sexual abuse, is increasing and is likely to exceed 200 by the end of this year. So the news this week that federal funds will pay for two more staff members at the Stephen and Suzanne Menkes Child Advocacy Center at Columbia Memorial Hospital was applauded by professionals in many fields, all of whom share a responsibility for helping children who become the victims of violent crimes.

The Child Advocacy Center will receive $265,416 over the next three years to pay the salaries of a new, full-time child advocate and a part-time pediatric mental health therapist. The first two years of the funding will come from federal economic stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the third year paid from a federal fund set up years ago to channel the money from criminal penalties, fines and fees into programs that help crime victims.

The Crime Victims Board, which is part of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, says the new employees will help the center provide “continuity-of-care for any child victim of physical and/or sexual abuse who is treated at the hospital.”

At a press conference and reception Tuesday, October 13, hospital CEO Jane Ehrlich said the program there began operating three years ago “on a shoestring” with a $49,000 grant from the Dyson Foundation. The initial goal was to “minimize the trauma to the child.” With subsequent grants from Dr. and Mrs. Menkes, it has grown in the face of increasing need. The new grant, said Ms. Ehrlich, takes the program to “another level,” providing more follow-up care for children.

It is the first grant the hospital has received from the Crime Victims Board, but the organization already provides some funding to the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Program, and the REACH Center.

Joining Ms. Ehrlich Tuesday were county Sheriff David Harrison Jr., Hudson Police Chief Ellis Richardson and other law enforcement officials, as well as hospital staff and representatives of other agencies that are part of what Ms. Ehrlich described as the collaboration of organizations that now make up the center. The center has its own board of directors; its location is not publicized as a safety measure.

State Child Protective Services data from 2008 show 225 “indicated cases” of child abuse or neglect involving 374 individual children in Columbia County. In neighboring Greene County, parts of which are also served by Columbia Memorial, there were an additional 91 cases involving a total of 136 children.

At present, the Menkes Child Advocacy Center has two employees, case manager Denise Saunders and Joan Spencer, the administrative coordinator. Both spoke enthusiastically about the impact of new staff. Ms. Saunders says she already acts as the advocate for abused children, sitting with them during interviews, coordinating with law enforcement, meeting with families, conducting needs assessments and offering program referrals. She said having an advocate on staff will help her follow through with helping children and their families.

Also on hand for the announcement of the grant was Tina M. Stanford, chairwoman of the state Crime Victims Board, the organization that determined which applicants would receive the federal funds. A former prosecutor in Erie County who has experience in the types of crimes that make the center necessary, Ms. Stanford said it was the “newness” of the program at Columbia Memorial that prompted her agency to approve the funds for this program.

Although her previous job was prosecuting those accused of abusing children, she said she saw firsthand the need to “rally and circle around the child” and to tend to their immediate requirements.

In addition to the direct benefits to children of having access to a therapist and to an additional child advocate, she said the federal funds would create “two new positions that didn’t exist before” and that those positions would have a ripple effect in the community. As an example, she said, the creation of new jobs might encourage some young people to consider careers in the field of child advocacy.

She also said that after the current of federal economic stimulus money runs out, the fines levied against state and federal white collar criminals under laws like the federal Victims of Crimes Act will continue to provide a source of support in future years. Ms. Stanford said that from what she saw when she was a prosecutor, she doesn’t expect that source of money to dry up any time soon.

Columbia Memorial Hospital is one of 10 victims’ assistance programs throughout the state to receive three-year grants from the state Crime Victims Board. The grants, awarded competitively, are designed to help organizations either retain existing jobs or create new ones, and enhance services, especially in areas of the state that have been underserved.

In addition to Columbia Memorial Hospital, two other organizations in the Greater Capital Region received first-time grants from the board: In Our Own Voices in Albany County and Mechanicville Area Community Services in Saratoga County. Equinox of Albany, which has been funded by the Crime Victims Board since 1998, also received Recovery Act funding in conjunction with traditional CVB funding.

The Crime Victims Board is governed by five board members appointed to fill seven-year terms by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate. In addition to funding victims’ assistance programs, the board provides direct compensation to crime victims and their families, including payment of medical and funeral expenses, compensation for lost wages and reimbursement for essential personal property such as eyeglasses.

The Crime Victims Board publishes a booklet called The Rights of Crime Victims in New York State. For more information see the website or call (518) 457-8727. 


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