FULTON, NY – US Senator Charles Schumer was in Fulton today (May 1) to drum up support for a bill he says can help curb the rising incidents of child abuse locally.
Schumer was at the Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County in Fulton, calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Violence Against Women Act of 2012 which would help beat back the growing scourge of child abuse in Oswego County.
A new report from the Child Advocacy Center shows that reported cases of child abuse spiked 58% from 2010-2011, with the center serving 384 children that were victims of child abuse.
“The large crowd we have here today shows how important this issue is,” the senator said. More than five dozen people stood on the lawn of the CAC to hear in announcement. “We very much appreciate everyone showing up and caring about the issue of child abuse.”
It is an extremely serious problem, a growing problem, he said, adding that there are few crimes as heinous, as despicable and as traumatizing as child abuse,” he said. “It harms the most helpless among us, harming those still growing up; it can have a lasting impact
on a child. It is a horrible thing. Any of us who know people who have experienced child abuse, know that it leaves lasting scars even on the strongest of people.”
Some people who do dastardly deeds later in life were victims of child abuse, he pointed out.
In 2010 the CAC dealt with 243 case of reported child abuse; 192 alleged child abuse offenders, he said.
“Last year, the numbers got even higher. In 2011 there were 384 children came through the center having been abused. There were an alleged 272 adult offenders in the county last year alone, evidence that child abuse continues to become more common in the county,” Schumer said. “That is a troubling, troubling statistic. On average about once a day, a new child was either physically or sexually abused, or was neglected, exposed to drugs or dangerous violence in their household.”
The Violence Against Women Act, a law that Schumer originally authored in 1994, would provide grants to health care providers to fund training so that providers can easily identify symptoms of child abuse and report cases to stop the abuse before it can continue.
The law would also provide training for law enforcement and court officers dealing with child abuse cases, and provides funding for court advocates to stand up for victims in cases.
Oswego County does not currently have a court advocate, but the legislation Schumer supports provides funding to support this position, which will be an important part of the county’s efforts to stop “this alarming trend.”
Schumer was joined by Gregg Heffner, Oswego County Social Services Commissioner; Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes, staff of the Child Advocacy Center and representatives of law enforcement as well as Oswego County school superintendents as he pushed for the passage of the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act.
He described them, and those who work with them, as “heroes.”
“They come various professions and walks of life. But, they are all doing everything they can to fight back against these growing numbers,” he said. “It’s clear, the people behind me, given the recent increases, need more training, more resources, more people on the job. And the courts need more people too to fight this horrible, horrible crime.”
Schumer cited the troubling uptick of child abuse in Oswego County in recent years, in his push for the House of Representatives to pass life-saving VAWA legislation.
“Tragically, Oswego County has experienced a growing scourge of child abuse in recent years. The federal government must be arming local officials and law enforcement with every tool to combat this trend and protect our children,” said Schumer. “The reauthorization of VAWA is more important than ever at a time when local organizations are strapped for resources, but still must carry out such an invaluable role in the fight against child abuse.”
Oswego County caseworkers handle an average of 139 cases per year, according to an impartial study by Cornell University.
That’s nearly double the national and state average of 72 cases, the senator pointed out.
“This demonstrates a clear need for additional resources and support for a child abuse prevention system already stretched too thin,” he said. “We need to get the VAWA through the House quickly.”
It literally saves lives, both women and children alike, and this legislation would help provide grants for health care providers to better detect abuse, local court training in child abuse cases, and could even establish a much-needed court victim advocate in Oswego County, Schumer said.
The legislation Schumer supports would renew several successful programs to prevent violence against women and assisting victims of domestic violence, which in Oswego County includes an epidemic of child abuse in recent years.
The new VAWA bill also includes a provision that would provide child abuse training for employees of the judicial system and will allow the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to make grants targeted at improving the judicial system’s ability to help victims of child abuse.
These grants would provide for technical assistance and training to judicial personnel and attorneys, particularly those in juvenile and family courts, and would fund needed administrative reform. Programs funded by these grants would include procedures for:
Determining whether child service agencies have made reasonable efforts to prevent placement of children in foster care;
Determining whether child service agencies have, after placement of children in foster care, made reasonable efforts to reunite the family;
Coordinating information and services among health professionals, social workers, law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and juvenile and family court personnel.
For the first time, the VAWA bill would allow the Public Health Service to give grants to healthcare nonprofits, hospitals, and medical schools to provide training for recognizing and treating child abuse.
Schumer noted that the fact that child abuse cases are rapidly climbing in Oswego County attests to the importance of expert training so that health care professionals can recognize and respond to signs of abuse as quickly as possible.
Schumer also said that VAWA would also reauthorize the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, a network of affiliate programs whose trained volunteers advocate for the best interest of children in cases of abuse and neglect, and Oswego County, which doesn’t currently have a CASA program, would be eligible to apply for funding to create this position through the federal program.
These local CASA programs currently operate in 34 New York counties, and recruit, train and supervise nearly 905 volunteers that advocate for children in the court and welfare system, “But, in Oswego County where child abuse is on the rise, they do not,” Schumer pointed out.
The CASA programs help Family Courts make crucial decisions affecting children who have been abused and neglected, and would be vital in giving children from Oswego County, and across New York State, access to professionals capable of giving them the help they need.
Oswego County court officials have told Schumer they plan to apply to create the advocate position in the event the final bill is passed and becomes law.
“This law would mean (children) have a powerful person in their corner,” the senator said. “You can’t double the cases and expect the same amount of resources to handle that. They need help.”
“He absolutely right, the numbers are rising. A court appointed special advocate would be helpful. I’ve been looking forward to that opportunity for a long time,” said Oswego County Family Court Judge Kimberly Seager.
DA Oakes thanked the senator for his support.
“Any time that we can help children … it’s important for us, it’s an investment in our future,” he said. “Unfortunately, we see too many kids that come through these doors who were abused by parents, family members, loved ones and that takes a toll on them as individuals and us as a society. So whatever we can do to stem that will benefit everyone in the long-run.”
“I can’t emphasis how valuable the CAC is to our office and our efforts prosecuting these cases,” he said. “Truly, they are miracle workers here. We wouldn’t be able to do our jobs as prosecutors and police officers if we didn’t have the CAC counselors.”
Ryan Webb, victim advocate at the CAC, said they are continuing to see an increase so far in 2012.
“As of January 1 until May 1 we have almost 100 new cases this year alone,” he said. “There is a strain – but it is a team effort. So, you know you are never alone.”
Between 2009 and 2011 the DSS has seen about a 30 percent increase in the reports it has gotten from the state central register, according to Commissioner Heffner.
“We went from approximately 2,100 reports in 2008 to around 3,000 reports in 2011,” he said.
A tragedy occurred in Oswego County in 2008 that heightened people’s awareness about child abuse and child safety, the commissioner noted.
“The first two years after the tragedy was when we saw the largest increase in reports. And then, we started seeing it level off. So I think that when something significant happens in a community the awareness shifts. I think that’s what we’ve seen. People are more
attentive to children,” he said. “I think that lends itself to an increased number of reports.
An increase in reporting can be a good thing; “as long as they’re not malicious reports,” the commissioner pointed out.
“We are doing a really good job at keeping on top of our cases,” he added. “The Child Advocacy Center is one of our most important partners. We work very closely with them in helping children and families. Family Court is another significant component. It’s just not one entity; it’s not just one system or one institution. It’s about us collaborating and working together. We require and we desperately need the community’s support in keeping your eyes and ears open for children that are lacking supervision or appear unsafe. If there is any question in your mind regarding the safety of children, you need to make a call to the state central register.”
The New York State Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-342-3720.
The Child Protection Advisory Council is also a big part of the process, the commissioner said.
The group continues to meet monthly. It is focusing on systems connections and systems support.
“We value their participation and they are a vital part of child protective services and the Department of Social Services,” Heffner said.