By Tien-Shun Lee
A new child advocacy center in Forest Hills that will serve victims of child abuse was inaugurated with speeches and strokes of orange paint Monday by borough elected officials, Safe Horizon officials and rap pioneer “Reverend Run” Joseph Simmons.
The new center, located at 112-25 Queens Blvd., will offer comprehensive legal, medical and social services to child victims of physical and sexual abuse.
On the third floor, it will house offices for case managers from the Administration for Children's Services, legal staff from the Queens district attorney's Special Victims Bureau, and medical staff from Schneider Children's Hospital. In the basement, there will be offices for NYPD detectives, holding cells and line-up rooms.
“This service will be child-friendly and will prevent them (victims) from multiple interviews that are confusing,” said Gordon Campbell, the chief executive officer of Safe Horizon, the non-profit crime victim services organization that is overseeing the opening of the center.
At the present time, with no single facility to house the people involved in dealing with child abuse cases, including police, doctors, prosecutors and child welfare officials, child victims must tell their stories an average of eight times, said District Attorney Richard Brown.
With the new child advocacy center, which is slated to open in June, child victims will be interviewed in a room with a two-way mirror and hidden cameras. Adults involved in victims' cases will be able to watch interviews in an observation room adjacent to the interview room.
“The idea is that the children will be interviewed once. That is really the key of this center,” said Myra Shapiro, the senior director of the center. “As a former juvenile prosecutor, I know that when you subject kids to multiple interviews, they think you don't believe them.”
Another advantage to centralizing agencies involved in child abuse cases at a single location is that the different agencies will have the same information on a case instead of having separate versions of a victim's story.
“By centralizing these various agencies at a single location, it will greatly reduce the possibility that important relevant facts go unrecognized,” said Brown.
The center will handle about 2,000 cases a year, concentrating on victims of sexual abuse, child victims up to 11 years old, and more serious abuse cases of victims up to 18 years old, said Shapiro. Last year there were more than 11,000 reported cases of child abuse in Queens and 54,000 cases in the city.
Simmons, a former member of the rap trio Run-DMC, said he was happy to support the center's worthy cause. He was invited to help inaugurate the center by Malaak Compton-Rock, comedian Chris Rock's wife, who is on the board of directors of Safe Horizon.
“I have five children and as far as I know they're fine, but you never know sometimes,” said Simmons, who lives and grew up in Hollis. “I'm always concerned about my own children, so I've got to be concerned about all the children in the world.”
With a musty odor of paint primer in the air, Simmons, Gordon, Schneider Children's Hospital Chief of Staff Philip Lankowsky and borough officials donned aprons and brushed the first strokes of orange paint on the front wall of a room that has been designated for workstations of ACS and Safe Horizon staff.
Pictures of the future center, which will be brightly decorated with items like child-size tables, children's books, toys and stuffed animals, were displayed on stands in the front of the room.
“To me, this is just one way to attempt to even the playing field a little bit, to give power to the kids,” said Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills). “Once they're ready, willing and able to tell their story to the police, the DA, the medical authorities, the least we can do is give them some them control of their environment.”
Other borough officials present at the event included Borough President Helen Marshall, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Police Department Deputy Inspector Susan Morley, and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.