DOVER, Del. (AP/WBOC) - U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, is urging fellow lawmakers to appropriate $20 million for centers that coordinate investigations and intervention services in child abuse cases.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget for 2014 includes no money for the Victims of Child Abuse Act program, which provides federal funds for some 750 Children's Advocacy Centers nationwide, including three in Delaware.
Obama's proposed budget for the current year also included no funding for the centers, but Congress nevertheless appropriated the money.
"I was very angry that a $20 million line item for this program was eliminated in 2013," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Friday during a visit to the Children's Advocacy Center in Dover. The similar lack of funding in Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2014 was disappointing and represented a "disconnect," he said.
On Friday, Coons and 30 other senators sent a letter to Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who lead a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee, asking that $20 million be appropriated for the Victims of Child Abuse Act.
Randall Williams, executive director of Delaware's Children's Advocacy Center program, said it could lose some $80,000 in direct funding without congressional action. The center also benefits indirectly from funding for CAC training and accreditation.
The Delaware CAC handled the interviews in the infamous Dr. Earl Bradley child sex abuse case.
"I don't want people to forget while that was 250 cases that year," said Williams. "We still handle more than 1,400 interviews every single year."
In the past, abuse victims and their families sometimes had to endure a series of interviews by different agencies in different locations, repeatedly reliving and recounting horrible incidents.
Overall, federal funding, including money from the federal Victims of Crime Act, accounts for about 25 percent of the Delaware CAC's $1.3 million budget, Williams said. VOCA funds, which come from criminal fines and penalties and help pay for a forensic interviewer and three mental health specialists in Delaware, are not at issue. But Williams said money from the child abuse act helps pay for office leases in Dover and Georgetown and staffing at the Dover center. And he added a cut in funding could mean a cut in services.
"We don't want to close a center, but that's on the table. We don't want to lay off staff, but that's on the table."
Instead of a police station or hospital, the CAC interviews are conducted in a child-friendly office environment. The walls of the waiting room at the Dover center are lined with toys such as doll houses, trucks and play ovens, and a magazine rack in the corner is stocked with issues of "Highlights" children's magazine.
The vast majority of cases involved alleged sexual abuse, with the children being interviewed having an average age of 9.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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