A place to turn for help

HUDSON—Survivors of abuse have someone on their side.

The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) and the REACH Center (Referrals, Education, Advocacy, Crisis intervention—counseling, Hotline), both programs of the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties, are where those who have been abused can find help and support.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Prevention Month and the week of April 8 through 14 is Crime Victims Rights Week, so now is a good time to get acquainted.

The Child Advocacy Center, 946 Columbia Street, was instrumental in the recent successful prosecution of the case of David T. Agan, Jr., who was convicted on all charges in a 136-count indictment January 26. The charges included first degree murder, 15 counts of third degree rape, 92 counts of third degree incest and 28 counts of third degree criminal sex act.

The murder-one guilty verdict means the jury agreed, based on the evidence, that Mr. Agan intentionally killed his wife because she witnessed a crime he previously committed and his motive for killing her was to prevent her from testifying against him. The prior crime was sexual contact with a teenage family member.

According to Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka, the assistance of the Child Advocacy Center to both the victim and law enforcement was “so important” in getting the first degree murder and sex crimes convictions in that case.

Victims of sexual and violent assaults require a great deal of assistance, counseling, understanding and patience,” the DA told The Columbia Paper this week. “CAC was instrumental with respect to all of those actions in the Agan case to the point that the conviction would have been extremely problematic without them. They worked tirelessly with the victim. They never wavered from their offering to assist the victim and us… through the investigation and trial itself,” he said, adding “next to the use of DNA as a scientific tool, our CAC is probably the most important creation in my time working in the Criminal Justice System.”

CAC coordinates the investigation of child abuse,” Julianne Baumann, LMSW, CAC and REACH program director and clinician, said by phone this week. The center’s mission is to: reduce trauma, provide expert medical care, and enable collaboration among organizations in the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse, according to the CAC brochure.

When allegations of sexual or physical abuse are made, the child involved is brought to the center for a forensic interview by a family member or caregiver. The environment is safe; the interviewer is unbiased and trained to understand that when child abuse has occurred, memories can be fragmented, out-of-order and recall can be difficult. The aim is not “retraumatization, it is not an interrogation, but to elicit memories to help in the investigation and prosecution of predators and pedophiles.”

Also, a comprehensive service plan is created to support the child and provide ongoing services. “It’s a long drawn out process,” Ms. Baumann said, adding “we work with the traumatized and abused child and any affected family members.”

In the Agan case, the CAC worked with the family to provide therapy and develop victims’ impact statements.

The center also sees that restitution is provided in cases where items such as clothes, computers or eye glasses have had to be left behind. The center was able “to provide Agan family members with reimbursement for travel along with services and support to allow the pursuit of justice,” said Ms. Baumann.

While the CAC is specifically for children up to 17 years of age, The REACH Center, 713 Union Street, is for anyone and has a Crime Victims Rights Program for adult survivors who have recalled earlier abuse and now need support to deal with it. “Not every allegation goes to prosecution,” she noted.

Another important component of the CAC and REACH programs is outreach and education in the community. The Clothesline and Pinwheel Garden projects, National and Community Nights Out are among them along with presentations to the community providing information and resources on sexual assault, prevention, signs and symptoms of trauma and abuse, healthy relationships and state-mandated Child Sexual Assault Prevention Education and program services. Training is also available for professionals and agencies that have contact with survivors of crime and abuse. Curriculum for children from pre-K through grade six is also offered starting with appropriate and inappropriate touching, body empowerment and continuing on to internet safety.

CAC and REACH have a 24-hour emergency hotline available in Columbia County at 518-828-5556.

Together both centers employ nine full- and part-time staff who have regular business hours and flexible evening and weekend availability.

Ms. Baumann notes that all services are free and 100% confidential. The programs secure and maintain their own funding through the Office of Victims Services, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Child and Family Services, and the Columbia and Greene County Youth Bureaus. The CAC serves an average of 200 to 300 children per year and the REACH serves more than 500 adults per year. “These services are needed and used,” she said.

Ms. Baumann, 49, and the mother of three teenagers, said her involvement in the CAC and REACH programs “comes from a place of hope. When a victim comes to us they learn they are strong and they are believed. It’s a transformative process, very rewarding. Every day [clients] get a sense of hope and know there are people out there who can help.”

Learn more at www.childadvocacyny.org

To contact Diane Valden email

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