Federal funding to help NY child advocacy centers hire more forensic interviewers
Child advocacy centers across New York state can apply for $10 million in federal funding for their services. These centers provide an environment for child victims to tell their stories in a place other than a police station.
Kathryn Bailey of Syracuse, 23, was abused by an older brother when she was between 8 and 10 years old. She told authorities about it when she was a senior in high school. A detective interviewed her at the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse, a kid-friendly environment with brightly colored rooms, carpeting and toys.
“He helped me feel comfortable, which is huge," Bailey said. "Just the room alone that we sat in when he pursued the interview truly helped because it was comfortable, it didn’t feel like I was being interrogated. It felt like a conversation. I felt comfortable, I felt safe, which is what every single victim should be able to feel.”
Child advocacy centers can apply for $75,000 annually in federal funding over two years to hire a forensic interviewer who talks with victims. McMahon/Ryan Executive Director Linda Cleary said last year, 700 children came through the center.
“Quite frankly, we’ll never have enough forensic interviewers," Cleary said. "The ability to have funding that will allow us to increase another forensic interviewer is huge for us.”
New York State Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said she hears that a lot from many of the other 36 programs funded throughout the state.
“Crime victimization is hard enough on an adult," Cronin said. "Imagine what it is like from the perspective of a child who is already not trusting because somebody in their family, or somebody that they know is likely the perpetrator. This is a way of making sure a child understands that’s done and they are in a safe space.”
Cronin said programs like McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center were not available when she worked in a district attorney's office in the late 1980s and 1990s.
"I think it would have made a big difference," Cronin said. "We did the best that we could but we were interviewing them in our offices and it wasn't as child friendly as I think it could have been. We've come so far in dealing with child victims. This is just so heartwarming to me to see that we have places like this."
The federal funding comes from fines certain offenders have to pay in court.