WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne County Child Advocacy Center has undergone some changes since its creation, but its mission has not altered.
“We help the kids of Luzerne County,” said Executive Director Shannon Peduto.
CAC provides a more comfortable environment for children who have been affected by abuse.
Peduto said children who report abuse sit down in a one-on-one interview to recount the incident. Other officials from law enforcement, Luzerne County Children and Youth Services and the District Attorney’s Office all sit in another room and watch the interview on a television screen.
“I think it’s an absolutely wonderful program,” said Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. “When I took office, this is one of the areas that I really wanted to focus on — child abuse.”
The process enables children to tell officials about the abuse without being pressured or having to retell their stories to multiple officials.
“Basically, we don’t want to re-victimize these kids, and that’s what’s happening when they have to retell what happened to them over and over and over,” Peduto said.
CAC was original opened in 2010 and operated under the District Attorney’s Office. Budget cuts, however, brought up the idea of making CAC non-profit. Salavantis said her office has only so much money, and it tends to focus more on prosecutions. The CAC’s focus, Salavantis said, is what’s in the best interest of the children.
“It was being run, but we felt we could do more,” Peduto said. Some wanted to lend a helping hand even before it became a non-profit. “People wanted to make donations, but they had to be turned down.”
CAC closed its doors in January and set up a board of directors. It reopened again on May 12, and Peduto is the only current employee with the organization. A volunteer serves as a receptionist, and Peduto said officials from Children and Youth Services are doing interviews for other volunteers.
Since then, it has continued its mission to help children.
“The numbers are picking up as to how many children we’re seeing within a week,” Peduto said.
Though the agency’s mission is under way again, funds and volunteers are needed. The Pittston Police Department recently gave CAC a more than $14,000 donation raised in a softball tournament. Despite a turbulent economy, Salavantis was confident that the CAC would continue to grow and thrive.
“This is an area that our community should really look to help,” she said. “I see adults every day, and I see what they go through. It is very different when it comes to a child.”
Peduto, however, said more donations are needed to fully bring the organization up to speed. Getting full-time staff members is a primary goal. Peduto said the next step is to get a nurse practitioner on-site. She also said staff members such as forensic interviewers and an in-house receptionist are needed.
“Right now, we’re relying on other agencies for help with all of that,” she said.