OVS Grant Provides Boost to Child Advocacy Center Services

Staff of the Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County (CAC) gathered to welcome community members to its Summer Bash to learn more about the work of the CAC and tour the agency’s facilities at 163 South First Street in Fulton. The CAC recently received a three year, $1.3M grant from the NYS Office of Victim Services that will allow the agency to expand the range of services it provides to children in Oswego County that have been abused or exploited. Pictured above are CAC Volunteer Shirley Kimber (seated). Second row from left: Marriage and Family Therapist Crystal Hoban, and Case Manager Sara Dopp. Third row from left: Clinical Director Dawn Metott, Mental Health Counselor Melinda Fatiga, CAC Executive Director Karrie Damm, Fund Development Director Myia Hill, Office Manager/Executive Assistant Sarah Weigelt, and Therapist Morgan Kiellach. Back row from left: Outreach/Prevention Advocate Tristen Johnson, Intern Daniel Tazbin, and CAC Board Member Patrick Haggerty. Absent from photo are Forensic Interviewer Aimee May, Family Advocate Rachel Muntz, and Therapist Lizzie Widrick. 

The Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County (CAC) was recently awarded a three year, $1.3M grant from the NYS Office of Victim Services that will have a significant impact on the scope of services provided to children in Oswego County that have been abused or exploited.

Established for crime victim compensation, the Office of Victim Services (OVS) operates under a three pronged mission to:

 - provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner;

- fund direct services to crime victims via a network of community-based programs; and

- advocate for the rights and benefits of all innocent victims of crime.

The work that the CAC does to support survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation makes the agency an ideal recipient for the OVS grant.

According to CAC Executive Director Karrie Damm the funds will greatly benefit the CAC and the many children and families it serves.

“The Child and Victim Witness grant will allow us update our facilities, expand staff, and give us the capability to meet the growing demand for our services,” said Damm.

One of the most urgent needs is to fully staff the CAC’s Pulaski site and expand services in that area of the county.

“Due to the isolated and rural nature of northern Oswego County communities in that area have very little access to specialized services such as the evidence-based trauma informed mental health treatment that the CAC provides,” said Damm. “In addition, the law enforcement and Child Protective Services investigators in that part of the county see more sexual abuse crimes against children than their counterparts in other parts of NYS.  Specialized advocates who can provide outreach and prevention efforts for child abuse, sexually exploited and trafficked youth, especially the LGBTQ youth in those communities, in the school districts, and the courts, are needed!”

“This grant will allow us to expand the hours of our Pulaski site to five days a week, hire specialized advocates, evidence-based mental health staff, and a forensic interviewer, as well as provide training for medical personnel,” continued Damm. “Additional administrative support to help coordinate the referral process with other community entities at the CAC would alleviate some of the difficulties with this population of victims as they would ensure that disclosures are supported, consistent communication with Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) was maintained, that proper stable, supportive housing, food, clothing, and vocational and academic supports were put in place, and that all victims and their families would have a place to turn to once their court processes are over.”

National statistics reveal that only 1 in 10 children who are sexually abused disclose that information to authorities. Additionally, 90% of children are abused by someone they like, live with, or love. The close relationship fostered by abusers with the children can increase the likelihood that the children may not even know that abuses being perpetrated against them are crimes. They may not even believe they are being abused, as abusers can often groom the children to believe that sexual abuse is something that people who love each other do together.

Damm said that this poses difficulties for investigators and prosecutors who are trying to stop these criminals from engaging in these dangerous behaviors. “We know that the number of child abuse and sexual abuse cases in our community is still underreported. We need to address this conspiracy of silence that prevails in the mostly rural, isolated northeastern portion of Oswego County. Hence, specialized child and family advocates, forensic interviewers, and therapists are needed to support the investigative work so that justice and accountability can be pursued, and ultimately, healing can happen for the child abuse victim. This grant provides us with the means to add those professionals to our staff.”

In addition to expanding CAC staff, the agency will soon have state of the art equipment that will provide the best possible monitoring and recording of interviews and the opportunity to share the information gained during interviews and medical evaluations with members its Multi-Disciplinary Team.

“Oswego County has a vast geographic area that is 90% rural,” said Damm. “The distance between towns and villages makes in-person communication and meetings among MDT members difficult during inclement weather. With the addition of new web conferencing equipment MDT members will be able to participate in case review meetings using secure software and a state of the art web conferencing equipment. The equipment purchased through this grant will also ensure that the forensic interviewer and MDT have the best, most modern equipment available to conduct their work and ensure the safety of children.” 

“This is an exciting time the CAC,” continued Damm. “We see approximately 500 children annually. But that is only a fraction of the children that are survivors of abuse and sexual exploitation. The OVS grant provides a tremendous opportunity to expand our services and provide justice and healing to a population that is among the vulnerable in our county.”

Located at 163 South First Street in Fulton, the CAC is a non-profit organization that works hand-in-hand with local law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, medical providers, mental health providers, and victim advocacy professionals in Oswego County to protect and serve child victims of sexual and physical abuse. For information on how you can support the efforts of the CAC visit www.oswegcac.org.

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