N.J. may expand child advocacy centers to every county

Advocates join New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney in urging legislative approval of a measure to expand child advocacy centers statewide.(Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Advocates join New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney in urging legislative approval of a measure to expand child advocacy centers statewide.(Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a measure sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that would provide $10 million to create a statewide network of child advocacy centers to improve services for abused kids.

Nine of the state’s 21 counties already have the centers where teams of law enforcement and mental health professionals investigate child abuse cases and help victims recover.

One of those facilities is Wynona’s House in Newark. Nancy Erika Smith was one of the founders after her fifth-grade daughter was abused by a substitute teacher.

“I saw firsthand what happens when police officers interview and reinterview a 10-year-old girl. It’s traumatic. It makes the abuse worse,” Smith said Monday during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton.

“We know a better way to do it, video forensic interviews,” she said. “No child should have to suffer when we know how to do this correctly.”

Assistant Union County Prosecutor John Esmerado, who worked at a child advocacy center in Elizabeth for 15 years, said the team of professionals at those facilities can make life better for abused kids.

“The sooner we can introduce a child into mental health services, the more quickly we can prevent suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Esmerado said. “We do forensics for reliable court information. We also do diagnostic information for mental health and medical treatment. This is a perfect wrap-around service model.”

Nydia Monagas, with the New Jersey Children’s Alliance, said the centers are also cost-effective.

“From a solely economic perspective, if we invest in their healing now, we will save ourselves from having to pay for the long-term social, health, and emotional difficulties associated with child abuse at a later time,” she said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.