Wanted: New Facility to Help Abused Kids
$5.3M Needed for Child Advocacy Center

By A. Scott Ferguson
Ashbury Park Press [New Jersey]
January 30, 2006

As Martin Krupnick stood before 50 prosecutors, police officers and supporters of the proposed Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center last week, he wished that they were celebrating the groundbreaking for the new building, or better, the official ribbon cutting.

Instead, Krupnick, a psychologist and chairman of the Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center Inc., told the audience at the meeting in Freehold Township that the group would set a goal of 14 months to raise the remaining money to build the state-of-the-art center in Freehold Township.

In the past 20 years, more law enforcement agencies have turned to child advocacy centers as a way to better deal with children who are physically, sexually or mentally abused by adults.

"This will provide them with a comfortable and therapeutic environment instead of shuffling them from one agency to another," the Rev. John Bambrick, a pastor at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Manalapan and a survivor of childhood abuse, said during the meeting. Krupnick's organization so far has raised about $700,000 of the $6 million needed to construct the 16,000-square-foot building on land donated by the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders on Kozloski Drive and Burlington Road in Freehold Township.

After last week's presentation, where the organization and Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin accepted a $100,000 federal check from Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., Krupnick admitted that while the desire to see the center built remained as strong as ever, the hard work of closing the shortfall will need to be stepped up during the next year.

"At our last meeting, we decided to set a deadline of 14 months and we really need to make a push to raise these funds," Krupnick, who lives in Marlboro, said. "From when we first talked about the project, the cost has risen from $4.5 million to $6 million. The longer we wait, the higher the cost will be."

During the next 14 months, the organization will make a greater fund-raising push, set new fund-raising goals, create greater awareness of the need for the center, and hire a full-time specialist to help with fund-raising organization, development and grant writing.

Other counties, such as Ocean, Morris and Burlington, already have centers in place.

In Ocean County, the Prosecutor's Office and freeholder board, with help from Kiwanis Club of Toms River, rented and renovated a Toms River house, transforming it into the Family Advocacy Center in 2003, said Robert Peck, deputy chief of county investigators.

"We just decided that this was a more practical approach and that's what we did," Peck said. "Hopefully, Monmouth County will have success with their project in the long run."

Currently in Monmouth County, the victims and witnesses of child abuse are sent from department to department, building to building, during the course of the investigation. In addition, the prosecutor's current Sex Crimes/Child Abuse offices are located in cramped quarters in an annex building on Jerseyville Avenue in Freehold Township.

Then there is the case load.

The number of abuse complaints the Prosecutor's Office investigated increased by about 10 percent from 605 cases in 2004 to 662 in 2005, Valentin said. Of those cases in 2005, about a third of the victims were boys and the remaining cases involved girls.

"Of all those (2005) cases, about two-thirds of the cases involved children under 13, and that's what makes this center so necessary," Valentin added.

On a recent visit to the unit's offices, Valentin recalled that there were at least 10 cases and a number of children, victims and witnesses all confined to the tiny waiting room.

While the project to build the center started under former Prosecutor John Kaye, Valentin said he was committed to seeing it completed.

"I'm very passionate about this program," Valentin said. "As a young assistant prosecutor in Hudson County, I dealt with these types of cases. . . . I know how difficult it is for a child who has just been traumatized. We in Monmouth County should truly take the lead and we should be an example that other counties should follow."

In the proposed designs for the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center, the plans call for a center that will coordinate investigations, as well as provide medical, mental health and victim and witness services in one building.

The offices also will provide working space for prosecutors, police officers, state Division of Youth and Family Services staff, victim and witness advocates, and medical and mental health professionals.

Like the proposed Monmouth County center, the Ocean County center created one building where prosecutors and investigators could work. At the same time, children, their families and witnesses could have a place to find comfort and support during trying times.

"Any kind of service is available to them," Peck said.

These types of centers, with their child-friendly atmosphere, have been endorsed by Kevin Ryan, the acting commissioner of Department of Human Services, while he served as the state's Child Advocate.

Krupnick hopes Ryan's appointment as the commissioner will help increase awareness of the need for the facilities.

The Rev. Bambrick, also the New Jersey Outreach Coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the proposed center will help children deal with the traumatic events that they were forced to endure.

"You need to build a bond of trust, and it's easier to build that bond in a comfortable place. In these type of cases, time is of the essence," Bambrick said. Bambrick also agreed with what Valentin had told the gathering: The longer the abuse goes unaddressed and children feel more isolated, the greater the chances they will turn to drugs or alcohol or become abusers themselves as they get older.

With abuse cases making headlines nearly every week — in New York City, the child welfare agency will receive an extra $16 million funding after the recent death of a 7-year-old girl — Krupnick and the rest of the organization hope to build even more momentum for it during the next year.

"Monmouth County is growing, and the Prosecutor's Office is limited by its space confinements," Krupnick said.

Part of the problem, Krupnick said, was that many people have already given money to a number of other causes in the past several years — the tsunami in South Asia and Hurricane Katrina to name some — and donors do not have the extra cash to help support the center.

During the next several months, the Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center will hold several fund-raisers, including a gala and a radio telethon to help raise both money and awareness.

In addition, state Sens. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, and Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, have pledged to work on a bipartisan bill that will designate state funds to help with the center's construction.

"When I heard that announcement, I really felt like that spoke to the value of the Child Advocacy Center," Krupnick said.

The center will also continue to rely on private donations, such as the fund-raiser started by the Manasquan High School National Honor Society.

At the same meeting, students Danielle Gorman, 18, and Jane Wenthe, 17, were on hand to hear about the progress and need for more money to complete the project.

Their school has helped raise about $1,500 so far for the center.

"This hits home," Wenthe, of Spring Lake, said. "I have an aunt who is a social worker in Monmouth County and I hear stories about what she has done, so I realize the importance of this."


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