Last year the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse saw over a thousand children from Onondaga County who are victims of abuse. The facility's unique approach is being highlighted to focus more attention on child abuse and its prevention.
Two out of five children who come to the center are under the age of six. The trauma they have lived through, in addition to fighting for justice against abusers, is extremely stressful. Acting Executive Director Colleen Merced says to reduce trauma they've created a ‘one-stop shop’, to give children the services they deserve.
"They are seen by a forensic interviewer. An advocate goes down, works with them, makes sure they are given therapy, a care appointment, and all the services they need.”
The advocacy center generally steps in after abuse is reported. Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio says they are also trying to educate people on how to stop child abuse before it happens.
“It’s about letting people know how they can prevent it, how they can stop it and how they can move forward if they have been abused. These are secret crimes. They happen behind closed doors, and so it’s about protecting children it’s about making sure children have what they need to disclose if something has happened.”
Centers like this are pretty uncommon. The child health providers take on the trauma and mental health needs of children who've suffered abuse, right alongside law enforcement who work on prosecuting the criminal side. Trunfio says the main reason there aren't more similar coordinated centers is funding. McMahon Ryan is able to operate with help from donations and federal funding.
“A facility like this is very rare. It’s money, I think it’s money. We’re very lucky in this jurisdiction; we had a bunch of dedicated people who wanted to do this. We also have a bunch of dedicated people who want to work together as a team. I think you have all forms of government coming together for the betterment of ensuring that children who are abused have proper services and justice in the system. When you have that intent it will happen.”
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The advocacy center is asking residents to use the hashtag Go Blue 4 Kids, and post photos wearing the color blue to show support.