Community Tours Children’s Advocacy Center at Memorial Hospital

The Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center welcomed members of the community to its annual open house on Wednesday, April 8 at The Memorial Hospital at Easton.

The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a partnership between the Talbot County Department of Social Services and Shore Health System. An accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance, the CAC uses a multi-disciplinary approach to the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse.

In his welcoming remarks, Joseph P. Ross, president and CEO for Shore Health System, said, “The Children’s Advocacy Center is one of those things I can’t help but be proud of. I am continually impressed by the dedication and commitment of the physicians, nurses, case managers and law enforcement officers who keep dealing with these serious issues with such a positive outlook.”

The CAC, which is located in a secured unit at Memorial Hospital, provides forensic interviews, forensic medical examinations, advocacy services and mental health services for victims of child sexual abuse in Talbot County. Forensic medical examinations are also provided at the CAC for victims from Caroline, Kent, Dorchester and Queen Anne’s counties.

Ross commented, “A resource as precious as this is difficult to create and maintain. We have assembled a unique team of experts who, by working together, have established standards of excellence that can be of service to our communities across the region.”

April Sharp, director of the Talbot County Department of Social Services, said, “The CAC wouldn’t be here today without the support of Shore Health System and Memorial Hospital. We have overcome jurisdictional boundaries to offer specialized medical services as far north as Kent County and as far south as Dorchester County.”

Sharp acknowledged the CAC Advisory Board for its role in developing a strategic plan for the center. The members of the board are Scott Patterson, State’s Attorney for Talbot County; Sharon Harrington, assistant director of the Talbot County Department of Social Services; Kawana Molock, CAC coordinator; Ruth Sullivan, director of patient and family advocacy for Shore Health System; Dick Goldstein, executive director for For All Seasons; Chief Ben Blue of the Easton Police Department; Chief Miguel Dennis of the St. Michaels Police Department; Jim O’Brien, Talbot Community Connections; James Slattery; Joanna Goeckeritz; and Dr. Fredia Wadley.

The CAC Advisory Board meets monthly to determine actions needed to take services to the next level. Board initiatives include continuing to educate the community about the causes and effects of sexual abuse of children and establishing best practices to prevent abuse from occurring.

Ross and Sharp both acknowledged the members of the Shore Health System medical staff who oversee the medical component of the CAC services. Pediatrician Elizabeth Mason, MD, served as the first medical director for the CAC, which opened in 2003. Fayette Engstrom, MD, the current medical director, has played a critical role from the opening of the center. Sharp explains, “Dr. Engstrom works with Shore Health System’s nurses to help them develop their skills as sexual assault forensic examiners. As medical director, she continues to ensure that the CAC provides the highest quality medical services to the children we serve.”

The CAC is not funded by any state or local governmental budgets. Sharp said. “We come together as not-for-profit healthcare and social service agencies with local law enforcement and prosecutors to create a patchwork quilt of funding so that we have the resources we need to do this work.”

Sharp thanked Shore Health System for its financial support in the form of donated space and the services of its specially trained nurses. She added to the list of supporters Talbot Community Connections, a foundation board that provides for unmet needs at the Talbot County Department of Social Services. Other funding is provided by grants from state and federal governments and donations from other community groups, such as the Lions Club, the American Legion, the Women’s and Girl’s Fund, and Soroptimist International, which has designated the CAC as its signature community support project for two years.

Guests at the CAC open house were invited to take a rare look behind the scenes. The centerpiece of the CAC is a child-friendly room in which interviews conducted by social services staff are videotaped. The facility also includes a medical examination room equipped with state of the art cameras that record as evidence injuries a child may have sustained; a private office where child victims and their non-offending family members can be cared for; and a conference room for interdisciplinary case review.