Many of the area's district attorneys use child advocacy centers to investigate and prosecute child abuse cases and now believe that a source of funding to create a center to serve central Pennsylvania could be the $60 million in fines levied by the NCAA against Penn State.
"Our numbers could substantiate a child advocacy center," Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard said Thursday. She said a center in Blair or some other area county would offer services to several counties.
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys' Association on Tuesday held news conferences in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and State College to suggest that some of the fine could be channeled to expand the number of child advocacy centers in the state, which is now 21.
The association sent a letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson and NCAA President Mark Emmert asking that creation of child advocate centers be given priority, noting they offer "a comprehensive approach in assisting child sexual abuse victims, including treatment, prosecution and prevention."
Bernard, Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins and Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic said they now send children to advocacy centers in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh for services.
When child sexual abuse occurs, Bernard said, a team of people become involved - the police; a prosecutor; Blair County Children, Youth & Families; victim advocates; and treatment agencies.
At child advocacy centers, experts conduct taped interviews with the children, medical personnel can examine the child and treatment specialists can address the issues created by the abuse, she said.
These experts are all trained to carry the process a step further by testifying in court.
But transporting children, their parents and the team members involved in the investigations to Harrisburg or Pittsburgh becomes a problem, said Bernard.
She said she hopes the notion of using Penn State dollars to combat abuse receives "due consideration."
Zanic said Huntingdon sends about 20 children annually to a Harrisburg advocacy center.
"Those resource centers have been very valuable to us," said Zanic.
However, having the child travel a long distance creates an "uncomfortable situation," he said. "We don't want to re-victimize the children."
Higgins called child advocacy centers "a one-stop shop, for lack of a better term."
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said a child advocacy center to serve Cambria County has been on the wish list for sometime.
"We have run into funding problems," she said.
Cambria uses a child advocacy center in Indiana County, but Callihan said travel to Indiana is difficult for investigators, stating Cambria has 42 police departments, many with part-time officers.
Callihan said she would be "thrilled" to have a center in Cambria. "That process makes it so much easier for the children," she said.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio said he, too, supported the development of a child advocacy center to serve central Pennsylvania.
Penn State is still putting together its plan for the use of the money.