Jane Barker was a remarkable woman. In her short lifetime, she had a profound influence on Safe Horizon and the development of innovative programs and services addressing the unique needs of child and adult victims of crime and abuse, their families, and communities.
Jane joined Safe Horizon in 1987 to establish our Counseling Center and continued to assume progressively broader administrative responsibilities. When Safe Horizon was called upon by community leaders to assist the thousands of people who needed help in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Jane lead Safe Horizon’s trauma response efforts. She was instrumental in bringing mental health support into diverse communities. During her 16-year tenure at Safe Horizon, she shaped the direction of programs always striving to develop a seamless continuum of care for clients.
Transforming the Systems Response to Child Abuse
One of Jane’s proudest moments was on October 4, 1996, when the Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center opened its doors. Her vision of putting the needs of children at the core of the system’s response to child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse became a reality.
In 1991, after Safe Horizon completed a study revealing that children who had experienced sexual abuse were subjected to significant trauma from the very systems designed to protect and support them. Children who suffered abuse had to tell many different strangers, including police officers, school personnel, medical personnel, prosecutors and mental health professionals, details of the abuse they had suffered on average of eight to twenty times during the investigation of their case. These interviews were frequently conducted in intimidating places such as in police precincts or hospital emergency rooms. Jane was determined to improve the way in which abused children were treated and their cases responded to.
It took Jane five year of advocacy with various city and state agencies to realize her dream of bringing together a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of experts comprised of law enforcement from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Special Victims Unit; Child Protective Specialists from the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS); prosecutors from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office; Corporation Counsel from the New York City Law Department; physicians with expertise in child abuse pediatrics from The Brooklyn Hospital Center, and Safe Horizon counselors, and administrators. Together, an agreement was reached to establish a Child Advocacy Center in Brooklyn; a child-friendly and welcoming facility, aglow with vibrant colors and full of toys and games where the MDT would all be in a single location, able to coordinate their efforts, responses and improve the experience for child victims.
For the first time anywhere in the country, this “fully co-located” Child Advocacy Center would enable the MDT to consult with one another face-to-face and in real time throughout the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of cases of child abuse. No one would be more than a few doors or work stations away. Safe Horizon would alert pediatricians to suspected physical injuries or call on one of our counselors to assess a child’s mental health. Children would be interviewed by one trained expert rather than being subjected to multiple interviews. The physician would advise the detectives and prosecutors on the child’s medical condition so they, in turn, could work together in their criminal investigation procedures. The Center would be place of calm where children could relax despite their ordeals, and where families could begin to heal.
Jane’s Lasting Legacy
Building on the success of the Brooklyn CAC, Safe Horizon went on to establish CACs in all five boroughs of New York City. Today, we are the only organization in the country to operate five fully co-located CACs in an urban setting. The National Children’s Alliance, the accrediting organization of the 800 CACs across the country, now refers to the “fully co-located CAC model” as the gold standard.
Jane tragically passed away in 2003, but her torch has since been carried by Vice President of Child Advocacy and Mental Health Treatment Services, Nancy Arnow. Nancy joined Safe Horizon in 1988 and had the privilege of working alongside Jane for many years. “Visionary. Inspirational. Passionate. Tenacious. These are the four words that come to mind when I think about Jane Barker.” Nancy says about Jane. “I am so deeply grateful for her pioneering work in the CAC movement and for having had the privilege of being directly supervised by Jane for more than a decade at Safe Horizon.” Nancy oversees Safe Horizon’s five CACs and keeps Jane’s spirit and vision alive. Safe Horizon’s CACs are amongst the busiest CACs in the country and the Jane Barker Brooklyn CAC is the busiest CAC in the state, investigating and responding to more than 8,000 cases of child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse in 2021 alone. We would not have been able to do this were it not for the innovation, and tenacity of Jane Barker.