A Message From the Executive Director

Pat Berger, Executive Director

Western PA CARES for Kids “CARES” began with a dream to radically change the way the system treats abused children.  Prior to the establishment of CARES, abused children would be interviewed by everyone responsible for reporting and/or investigating the allegations of abuse.  Repetitive interviews caused the child additional trauma each time they had to repeat their abuse experience and often left them with the feeling that they were not believed.  Kids were interviewed by people who had little experience or knowledge about interviewing child victims.  The people responsible for investigating the abuse didn’t coordinate their efforts or communicate with each other, resulting in the loss of important case information.

One example of this was when a young child from our county told her mom that her privates were burning when she took a bath and that the neighbor man had been touching her in her privates.  Her mother didn’t know what to do so she took her to see someone at the mental health office.  The little girl told them what had happened to her and they made a mandated report to the Chief of police.  The Chief called mom later and told her to keep taking her daughter to mental health and if they decided that it really happened he would take it from there.  The child continued to go to mental health and give consistent accounts of what had happened to her.  Mental health made several additional reports to the police that were basically ignored.  Time went by and the child told her guidance counselor at school who reported it to a caseworker at the Children and Youth office, and she was told “the police have it.”  The child later told her friend on the school bus who told her mom about it when she got home from school.  Her mother called the school to report it and was told that it had already been reported to Children and Youth.  Two years went by and the child’s grandmother ended up telling someone about her granddaughter’s ordeal.  The person she told knew the Director of Children and Youth and called to discuss everything with her.  The Director of Children and Youth immediately called the District Attorney and this was the first had had any knowledge of this case.  He immediately contacted the Chief of Police and instructed him to do an investigation.  Charges were filed and the offender is currently serving time in a state correctional facility.  The system really let this child down.  Most children do not continue to tell people about what has happened to them when it is obvious nothing is being done to help them.  Thankfully this child did.

The District Attorney learned about a team approach to child abuse and implemented our first multidisciplinary team made up of law enforcement, prosecution, children and youth services, mental health personnel, medical personnel, juvenile probation, and members of all the victim services agencies in our county.  We began by discussing current cases of child abuse on a monthly basis to ensure communication and collaboration with these types of cases and that no child would fall through the cracks again.  This was the answer to only part of the problem.  The other problem still needed addressed.  Children still needed to be interviewed by the investigating agencies and that meant there would still be multiple interviews.  In 2007 the multidisciplinary team learned of the possibility of a start up grant for a child advocacy center that would enable them to hire a trained forensic interviewer with nationally accredited training.  We applied for the grant and were awarded a $50,000.00 one year start up grant for 2008 and began a governmental base child advocacy center.  Our next step was to find a facility equipped with a child friendly waiting area, interview room, observation room and an office space.  Brookville Behavioral Health provided us with a donated space in the basement area of their building where we are currently located.  The Brookville Kiwanis club donated over $7,000.00 enabling us to purchase the needed recording and monitoring equipment for the interview process.  Elk County’s Children and Youth Services, donated much needed furniture and provided new toys for the children’s area of the waiting room.  In May of 2008, we were able to hire a forensic interviewer/executive director.  Having a specially trained forensic interviewer enabled abused children to be interviewed once while the investigative team watched on a monitor and were also able to offer input for any additional inquiry needed.  We were finally able to lessen the trauma a child experiences by providing a child friendly space to help put the children at ease and be interviewed once.  The interviews are recorded to DV-R and DVD copies are given to the police and District Attorney.  One unforeseen benefit to recording the interviews has been that many offenders are pleading guilty after reviewing the recorded interview with their attorney in the District Attorney’s Office.

At the end of 2008, CARES established a board of directors and began the process of applying for 501 (c ) 3 non-profit status.  We are currently a 501 (c ) 3 non-profit organization and have provided help to more than 200 children in our community.  We currently do not receive any state or local funding and exist through the generosity of our donors and sponsors.  At the core of our success thus far is our community, businesses, civic organizations and people like you who have contributed their time and resources to ensure our program is viable and the children received the help they need to begin the healing process.  We have several areas of sponsorship and one such area is our yearly 5K, duathlon, and community walk.  We were able to raise a much needed $8,500.00 through the efforts of the board, volunteers, sponsors and participants last year.  We will also be holding our first Caring Angels donation drive at County Market in Punxsutawney in June.  We also have our special donor levels.  Anyone who wishes to donate $5,000.00 becomes a Gold Level Sponsor, $2,500.00 is a Silver Level Sponsor, and $1,000.00 is a Bronze level Sponsor.  A sponsor of these levels receives acknowledgement on our website and also has their names engraved on our plaque displayed in the waiting area of our child advocacy center.  We need your help to continue to help the children in our community.  If you are interested in making a difference in the life of a child by investing in their future, contact us for more information and consider becoming a donor or sponsor.  Help us Stop the cycle of abuse…one child at a time.