OLEAN — The Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center has been operating out of offices in Olean since its inception 12 years ago.
The center, which provides a safe, child-friendly environment to interview suspected child abuse victims, is about to take its mission on the road.
Last year the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center, which serves Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, conducted interviews in more than 300 cases of suspected child abuse, according to Executive Director Karen Hill.
The center is one of seven similar organizations across the state to receive a full-size recreational vehicle outfitted with the same forensic equipment available inside the center’s Main Street location.
The Winnebago was funded through a partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
The center coordinates teams of investigators and social workers from the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, Child Protective Services, medical and mental health, family advocate, Probation and schools in cases of suspected child abuse. The Parent Education Program (PEP) has also partnered with the Child Advocacy Center.
The Child Advocacy Center’s service dog Addie, a golden retriever, was also introduced to the specially outfitted recreation vehicle since she’ll be going on calls as well as Hill, her owner/handler, and the staff.
Interviews are recorded so children don’t have to sit through repeat interviews.
“We’re going to be able to help children who are unable to get transportation to the center,” Hill said Monday when social agencies and law enforcement toured the nondescript white recreational vehicle parked outside the center.
“We have the same state-of-the-art forensic and recording equipment in the mobile unit as we do inside the center,” Hill added.
State Police Senior Investigator Gulio R. Giardini, who works closely with the Child Advocacy Center, said with little public transportation in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, the mobile unit will be able to bring services to rural child victims.
District Attorney Lori P. Rieman said, “This will give us access to an underserved group of children” and will allow the group to reach out more.
A deputy sheriff and assistant district attorney are among those assigned to the center.
Getting people to the service has always been a problem, said Cattaraugus County Social Services Commissioner Anthony Turano. “We are trying to bring the services where the people are.”
It is especially tough because 85% of the cases investigated occur outside the city of Olean where regular public transportation like the OATS Bus and taxis are available.
When not in use, the Child Advocacy Center’s mobile unit will be stored at the Cattaraugus County Office Building in Olean, Hill said.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)