Victims of child abuse in Lebanon County and the law enforcement officials who defend them have a new tool which will help the children recover and improve the likelihood their tormentors are punished.
On Tuesday, county officials joined with representatives from social service agencies and area health care systems to officially open the PinnacleHealth Children's Resource Center at 618 Cornwall Road.
Located in an office donated by Good Samaritan Hospital, the facility is a satellite of PinnacleHealth's Resource Center in Harrisburg and, like that one, will serve as a one-stop-shop where child abuse victims will receive care and provide testimony that can be used to prosecute their attackers," said the facility's manager Lynn Carson.
"Our purpose is to help children and their families during a very vulnerable and emotionally difficult time," she said. "Our staff has been specially trained to work with abuse victims. We are able to provide medical care and exams with compassion as well as to provide documentation of suspected abuse to the local District Attorney's office. This allows children to receive the treatment that they require and to enable law enforcement officials to seek out abusers to prevent abuse in the future."
The opening of the local office is the result of a lengthy collaborative effort of the Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center, Children & Youth Services, the Office of the Lebanon County District Attorney, PinnacleHealth System and Good Samaritan Health System.
Having a Children's Resource Center in Lebanon means victims of child abuse and their families will no longer have to travel to Harrisburg for the services, or tell their story repeatedly to doctors, counselors, and law enforcement officials here, said District Attorney David Arnold in remarks at the morning ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Repeatedly telling of the abuse is not only traumatic for the child, Arnold explained, but it often results in slightly different versions, which defense attorneys are quick to discredit, sometimes leading to acquittals for their clients.
"Before you know it, you have four or five interviews with a child about a very very traumatic experience," he said. "Let's think about that. Try to tell a story four or five times that was so difficult to get through in the first place. You can be 100 percent truthful and you can't repeat it the same way each time. It is not possible."
With the Resource Center that will no longer be an issue, Arnold said. Now, after undergoing a physical exam at the facility, the child will provide video-recorded testimony to a specially-trained interviewer, while local law officials and child advocates watch from another room. "We've got a multi-disciplinary team put together: prosecutors, law enforcement, medical providers, Children and Youth, mental health services, SARCC, everybody working together with really one common goal," he said. "And our goal is to provide the best possible service for our abused children and to provide the most effective and efficient prosecution of our criminals who are abusing the children."
The Resource Center will be open two days a week, at the outset, and will be managed by members of PinnacleHealth's Harrisburg office. Also providing medical assistance and laboratory support at no cost will be staff from GSH.
The opening of the local office is a dream that SARCC President and CEO Jenny Murphy-Shifflet has held for a long time.
"SARCC has tried for probably 12 years to bring this program into the community because we've seen the impact it has had on our children and our families heading to Harrisburg," she said. "From somebody who has been through these exams with children, I know how awful they can go and I know how well they can go. The folks at PinnacleHealth Children's Resource Center do an exemplary job."
Two important things helped make the local Children's Resource Center a reality, Murphy-Shifflet said. The first was a survey conducted two years ago with help from a class of Lebanon Valley College students.
"In that study the need was clearly established by law enforcement and other gatekeepers for this program here in this community," she said. "So we started gathering all those people together to figure out how do we go about doing this
The second crucial element that brought the facility to Lebanon was Children and Youth Services obtaining a $40,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's Office of Children, Youth, and Families, that was matched with $10,000 by the county commissioners.
The money was used for start-up costs that included purchasing furniture and giving the office a face-lift by painting walls in the meeting rooms and examination room in soft, pastel colors, and decorating them with paintings of butterflies to enforce the uplifting, anonymous quote that greets visitors at the entrance:
"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it turned into a butterfly."
Access to PinnacleHealth Children's Resource Center
will be made by referrals from Lebanon County Children and Youth Services or law enforcement officials. If you have been a victim of abuse, a family member of an abused child, or you suspect that child abuse has occurred, you can call your local police or the Pennsylvania ChildLine at800-932-0313. ChildLine is available 24 hours daily and trained staff will connect victims and families to local services and law enforcement authorities.