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Child center marks 10th year of assisting abuse victims

Since its founding 10 years ago, the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara has served 2,000 children in Niagara County.

Of its cases, 85 percent involve sexual abuse. About three-quarters of its cases deal with children younger than 13; half of the cases involve children younger than 7. The center in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center also treats infants and older teens.

"We have clients from every corner of the county," said Ann Marie Tucker, center director. "Unfortunately, it is not a problem that any community can be spared from."

Sunday, the center will mark its 10th year by honoring the original Niagara County Strike Force team for the vision to practice what Tucker called a "multidisciplinary approach."

That, she said, allows all agencies -- including social services, law enforcement, medical and prosecutors -- to work as a team.

That wasn't always the case, Tucker said.

"The Niagara County Strike Force team was established in 1990 and was one of the first in the field. We want to honor these people for taking this first critical step. They paved the way. Without them we would not have been as successful," said Tucker.

"We forget what a significant step this was," she said. "They were one of the first to set up this multidisciplinary team. Others said they weren't sure they can do this. We were the third [child advocacy center] in New York State. Now there are 12, with 400 across the United States."

Tucker noted that a coordinated effort reduces trauma for victims of child sex abuse.

"We avoid duplicating interviews," she said. "We prefer to avoid going to the police station. Instead, we are in a child-friendly center. When [abuse] happens, it's tragic, but we're here to help the child and the family."

As the founding director for the center, she was involved in planning a facility that appeals to younger and older children.

"We have a play area, soft colors, hot air balloon and dolphin designs on the walls, books, toys and child-size furniture. When a child walks in, they know this is a place for them," Tucker said.

She also noted that questioning a 6-year-old in such cases is not easy, but said the center has established a system.

"We are a whole team," Tucker said. "We are well-trained to work with kids. We learn from each other. We support each other with a whole realm of skills. In communities without a child advocacy centers, people are not always on the same page. It's hard enough and confusing enough to make a report of abuse. We can help them be prepared for what to expect."

Tucker said she hopes that making people aware of the center, will encourage them to report suspicions of child abuse to the hotline and less reluctant to call police, since they can respond effectively.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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