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Center for sexual abuse victims in Schenectady County gets state grant to expand services

New York Assemblyman Phil Steck and Schenectady County Child Advocacy Center officials outside the Center on April 30, 2024.
Alexander Babbie
New York Assemblyman Phil Steck and Schenectady County Child Advocacy Center officials outside the Center on April 30, 2024.

A Schenectady County center for sexual abuse victims is receiving a state grant to expand its services.

The Schenectady County Child Advocacy Center helps children who have been sexually abused get needed medical care and counseling. Outside the center Tuesday, state Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Democrat from the 110th District, says the $50,000 in grant funding is key to helping address the county’s mental health crisis.

“So many problems that people have as adults originate in child abuse,” Steck said.

Center Director Susan Casey agrees.

“The renovated adjacent space will provide a more comfortable and private environment for our licensed mental health counselor to engage in trauma informed counseling and interventions with children. This expansion will also include a private space for families to receive information, advocacy, and other support services,” Casey said.

The money is also helping the center hire a new assistant director.

Casey says there are two ways to refer a case: through law enforcement or Child Protective Services.

“If it's initiated through Child Protective Services, a hotline, that means that the alleged perpetrator is a person who is legally responsible for that child, oftentimes a parent, grandparent, family members, something like that. If it's law enforcement initiated that means that the alleged perpetrator is someone who is not a legally responsible person to that child,” Casey said.

Children who live in Schenectady County, or whose cases occurred there, are eligible to seek help from the Center.

When a case comes in, Casey says the Schenectady County Child Abuse Multidisciplinary Team is called in to action.

“That includes prosecution, the District Attorney's Office, Department of Social Services, CPS, law enforcement, so depending on which jurisdiction in the county is involved, mental health services, medical services,” Casey said.

Again, Casey:

“The child is brought in, either by their parent, depending on the set of circumstances, or a caseworker. Make them comfortable in the family room. Get them snacks, get them drinks, talk to non-offending caregivers, provide information and sexual assault services and the SANE [Exam that we will be offering with our nurse, and then we bring the child in for the interview,” Casey said.

The Center also has a forensic nurse examiner, Nancy Harris, on-call through St. Peter’s Health Partners. Harris, a nurse practitioner, says her role starts when the center calls her to have an exam done.

“When we get here, we meet with the family, kind of get a feeling of what's going on. We'll meet with the parent, get some information from them, and then we sit with the child, we like to gather information from the child first, kind of get a feeling, you know, to let them know that the exam is all about making sure their body is OK. And they're not forced to do anything,” Harris said.

Harris says while the work is challenging, having the support of the team at the Center helps her. She adds her work now draws on years of experience.

“I was an emergency room nurse for years, and became involved in this field while I was in the emergency department. And the children have always just had a special little place in my heart,” Harris said.

As part of her role, Harris says she’s been called to testify.

“I learned a long time ago that it's not my case- it's not my case to win or lose. It's really a matter of telling the truth and what we did in the exam room. And if I stick to that, I'm fine,” Harris said.

She says the children trust her.

“There are times where they'll tell me things that they haven't told mom and dad and they don't want mom and dad to know. Because they don't want to upset them. You know, and it's something that I don't have a problem with listening and documenting and having all that information for them,” Harris said.

Casey says a single case is a case too many, but the center is on pace for more than 300 this year. More information about the Center is available at WAMC dot org.

For WAMC News in Schenectady, I’m Alexander Babbie.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.