Union County Opens New Child Advocacy Center

ELIZABETH –After more than a decade of planning and several years of construction, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Child Advocacy Center was officially opened on Wednesday, Oct. 3, ready to serve the residents of the county who are victims of and affected by child abuse and sex crimes. The new center was championed and received financial support from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Union County Improvement Authority.

Located at 240-242 West Jersey Street in Elizabeth, the Child Advocacy Center is a satellite office of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. The facility consists of a three-story, 11,000 sq. ft. Victorian era home; the structure itself is over 100 years old.

Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow, and Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado have worked for over a decade to conceptualize, plan, develop and build a new Child Advocacy Center. The Child Advocacy Center and its multi-disciplinary team offer legal, investigative, therapeutic, medical and child protective services to children from newborns to seventeen years of age, who report child maltreatment. The Prosecutor’s Office, Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly referred to as DYFS) jointly investigate over 500 cases a year of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and maltreatment. The Child Advocacy Center receives approximately 2000 visitors annually including families, police, teachers and witnesses.

“There are few things worse than child abuse,” said Romankow. “I have long been impressed by the hard work ethic and passion demonstrated by the staff with such sensitive investigations.” The Prosecutor noticed, however, that the facility that housed the Child Advocacy Center staff was in disrepair and began working with the county to purchase and rehabilitate a new building.

In the spring of 2010, Union County entered into a Shared Services Agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority for the purposes of financing and managing the construction of the $3 million project.

“This is not just any building, this is not just a project. This is all about saving the lives of children and giving them another chance in life,” said Union County Improvement Authority Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo. “We are proud to support this effort.”

In addition, the Friends of the Child Advocacy Center, a 501 (c)(3), non-profit corporation, was created to help raise additional funding.

“With this advocacy center, we speak for our children who cannot always speak for themselves, and we assist those who need it the most,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella, father of two teenagers.

The Center houses 26 full time staff, including investigators from the Prosecutor’s Office, Division of Child Protection and Permanency, mental health staff from Trinitas Regional Medical Center and nursing staff from Runnells Specialized Hospital of Union County. The Center will employ an advanced, efficient “wrap around” service model that brings together all existing child abuse services from multiple locations to a single location, providing professional assistance to child abuse survivors such as interviews, intake, medical examination and mental health intake evaluation and counseling, said Romankow. This wrap around service model significantly truncates investigation and treatment from days to hours.

“The new Child Advocacy Center will house state of the art facilities and technology to provide the tools to assist the staff in protecting child abuse survivors in moving from the darkness of sexual assault into the light of healing and recovery,” said Romankow.

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