The Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania opened a first-of-its-kind center to serve regional victims of physical and sexual abuse and neglect between the ages of 13 and 18 on Thursday, Nov. 14.
“One of the key reasons for creating the new center is to provide teens with a place that feels more comfortable and appropriate for their age group than facilities designed for children,” CAC/NEPA Executive Director Mary Ann LaPorta said. “Walking into a room filled with books, posters and other items intended to put younger visitors at ease can leave some teens feeling uncomfortable and perhaps out of place.
“That is a dream come true. We know that when the children and teenagers come to us, we’re giving them the service and care that they need. We will continue to be driven by the fact that they are resilient and will be healed.”
The Teen Advocacy Center (TAC) is located at 316 Wheeler Ave., Scranton.
LaPorta believes the center is necessary to counteract the rising number of abuse cases in the area.
“The issue of child and adolescent abuse has never been more important,” she said. “Currently, in the United States, one in four girls will be sexually abused before she reaches the age of 18. That same fact is true for one in six boys. Since 2004, CAC/NEPA has witnessed a 210 percent increase in the number of victims served by the Center.”
According to LaPorta, the CAC/NEPA, which opened in 1998, was designed to help minimize how many times — and to how many people — a young victim had to explain his or her abuse.
The private, nonprofit, charitable organization coordinates a multidisciplinary team response to each case of child abuse, acting as the neutral agent for child/teen victims of abuse and the contact point for treating, tracking and referral to resources needed including district attorneys, law enforcement and Child Protective Services.
Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola believes the center will be a valuable facility in the area.
“Now, we can pay more focus to the difference between young kids and teenagers,” he said. “I think it will bode very well for the us in the community as well as law enforcement.”
Services provided include: forensic medical assessments and interviews, trauma therapy/counseling coordination, child advocacy services, medical services for juvenile detainees, child abuse prevention education and training and professional consultation.
State Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, believes the new center will serve two important purposes.
“Teenagers will now be coming into an age appropriate setting and have the benefit of extraordinary professional care,” he said. “It reduces the trauma for the victims and strengthens the prosecution.”
The services of the CAC/NEPA — which serves Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties — are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are provided free of charge.
Robert P. Steigmeyer, chief executive officer of Geisinger-Community Medical Center, was committed to supporting the center after a meeting with LaPorta.
“Once you understand the mission of the organization and the need for that mission, you’re compelled to be involved,” he said. “The mission is critically important in our community. We now have a new asset to help us in the quest to eliminate child abuse in Pennsylvania.”
According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the center plays a vital role in helping children recover from traumatizing events.
“There is nothing more precious to any of us than our children and when something happens to one of them, there is nothing more important than making sure they are saved,” Kane said. “Last year, the CAC/NEPA saved more than 1,000 children.”