Safe Horizon is proud to partner with the New York City Council to help ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations. Our latest such opportunity came on October 31, 2016 when the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare held an oversight hearing to examine the many ways in which city agencies come into contact with child victims of abuse. The hearing was held in the aftermath of the tragic death of six-year-old Zymere Perkins.
As Safe Horizon’s Deputy CEO and Chief Program Officer and Vice President of Government Affairs, we were both called upon to testify before the Committee to explain the important role Safe Horizon’s Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) play in the City’s response to child abuse. In addition to Safe Horizon, the Committee heard from high-ranking officials from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV). The Committee also heard from union officials, child protective caseworkers, and advocates.
We explained the CAC’s approach that is designed to reduce the re-traumatization of children who are disclosing abuse. By housing all of the necessary partners under one roof, CACs minimize the number of times children must recount stories of pain and provide support and care to child victims and impacted family members. Located throughout the five boroughs of New York City, each Safe Horizon CAC brings together a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of experts comprised of detectives from NYPD’s Child Abuse Squad; Special Victims Unit; Child Protective Specialists from ACS; prosecutors from each county’s District Attorney’s Office and from the New York City Law Department; physicians with expertise in child abuse from premiere hospitals, and Safe Horizon counselors and forensic specialists.
Safe Horizon’s Child Advocacy Centers are child-friendly and welcoming programs, aglow with vibrant colors. The MDT works in close partnership to investigate and respond to the city’s most serious cases of child abuse and, where warranted, hold offenders accountable for their actions.
In addition to discussing the benefits of a coordinated response to child abuse and the specific role Safe Horizon plays in the CACs, we offered recommendations for how to create a stronger safety net for vulnerable children, including increasing the availability of medical coverage at the CACs and increased coordination in child abuse cases that do not lead to an arrest or arraignment.
With CACs located in every borough, child abuse remains a critical issue at the heart of Safe Horizon’s mission. The City Council hearing provided an opportunity to speak on behalf of all child victims of abuse and call for improvements that will lead to more healing for children and families affected.