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Santa Clara County leaders recently unveiled the new Child Advocacy Center which seeks reduce trauma inflicted on children and youth who report sexual and physical abuse.

In the past, when children reported such abuse, they were “shuffled” around from numerous agencies undergoing three to five interviews, which can make children re-live the trauma.

With this new facility, minors who report will only have to do one interview with one designated person, while others who may also need to interview the child can listen in through a one-sided mirror.

The observation room, designed to have toys and other items of comfort, will also allow those who may need to have a child interview be able to suggest questions to the interviewer through an earpiece.

“That means that this one interview is going to be used by all the different groups,” Assistant Deputy District Attorney James Gibbons-Shaprio said. “And it will be recorded…so that if it needs to be used in court, it can be used in that place too.”

Centralized services

Those different groups include law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, family and child protection services, medical experts as well as other nonprofit advocates who will each have an office in the building to create one central location.

“(The single interview) is reducing the trauma of the child by not having them to relive that trauma, again and again and again,” Gibbons-Shaprio said.

It’s a model that has been tried and true across the nation, said Dr. Marlene Sturm, medical director at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

“Child Advocacy Centers focus on the victim,” Strum wrote in a community letter in January. “All agencies work together to provide expert, compassionate, and efficient care to the victim, in one location.”

And leaders say this center, which opened for children on April 19, could not come at a better time.

This is because the shelter-in-place orders, closures of schools and increased time at home has led to a spike in child abuse and neglect.

In March 2020, minors made up half of the calls for the first time ever, according to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Of minors who reported, 67 percent identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79 percent said they were living with that perpetrator.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen said a lot of those abuses are also underreported.

“When children are victimized, often the first person they tell might be a teacher or coach, it might be some other adult,” Rosen said. “With COVID, (children) were really restricted from the adults that they’ve been able to be around, but the abuse did not stop.”

He noted that as children go back to school and things open back up, he suspects more children will report such abuse.

Decades in the making

However, it wasn’t the pandemic that sparked this idea.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the idea is one the county has struggled to make a reality for decades.

It wasn’t until February 2020, when Chavez and former supervisor and now state Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, put forward a referral asking for the establishment of the center by December 2020.

In July of 2020, the board approved $6 million for the new center.

“(The single interview) is reducing the trauma of the child by not having them to relive that trauma, again and again and again.”

James Gibbons-Shaprio, assistant deputy district attorney

“I can’t emphasize this enough, it was having the right people at the right time, ready to go,” Chavez said.

She noted that the District Attorney’s office played a vital leadership role in making it sure it happened. It was also possible because of the county’s recent ownership of the O’Connor Hospital.

Non-profit advocacy groups, who partner with the county to support those children, celebrated the new center as well.

“Having all the partners co-locate here with a clear mission to seamlessly serve children and their families will increase communication, decrease system gaps,” Community Solutions CEO and President Erin O’Brian said. “Ensuring that all survivors are treated with dignity in a trauma informed way, and that their rights are honored.”