Oneida County Child Advocacy Center marks Child Abuse Prevention Month – Utica Observer Dispatch

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Oneida County received 3,976 reports of child abuse last year. 

The Oneida County Child Advocacy Center, which deals mostly with sexual abuse or serious physical abuse, investigated 602 of those complaints as well as another 439 cases that came to the center through other channels, according to Oneida County.

Their investigations covered 722 alleged abusers and led to 47 arrests. 

The county’s Child Protective Services filed 171 neglect/abuse petitions concerning 465 children in 225 families last year. 

But, local officials gathered in front of the Child Advocacy Center on York Street in Utica on Tuesday morning worried about the kids those statistics might have missed, kids who might still be suffering abuse. To keep all kids safe, the public has to get involved, they said. 

“In an effort to raise awareness for child abuse prevention in our community, we urge everyone to recognize that they can be the one to be part of the solution,” Chief Deputy Derrick O’Meara, director of the Child Advocacy Center, said.  “Teachers, parents, community members, neighbors and friends all have the power and responsibility to help keep children safe. You can be the one in the life of a child to help end abuse.” 

A crop of pinwheels glinted in the sunshine and spun in the strong breeze while O’Meara and other officials spoke. They symbolize healthy, happy childhoods and are planted every April for Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

After the speeches were done, officials from the county, law enforcement, the center and the YWCA Mohawk Valley, as well as local elected officials planted more pinwheels in the advocacy garden. 

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. echoed O’Meara’s call for involvement, asking residents to pick up the phone whenever injuries don’t seem quite normal, whenever something seems off. That small thing could be a sign of something worse, he said. 

“These are the people that will bring justice,” Picente said, indicating the building behind him. “These are the people who bring protection to our children.”  

Child Advocacy Center

Picente also praised the work of the child advocacy center as a long-time model for the state and for the nation.  

Oneida County created a Child Sexual Abuse Task Force in 1990 that was renamed the Child Advocacy Center in 1998. It is run through a partnership between the Oneida County Department of Family and Community Services, the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office and the four major law enforcement agencies in the county: the New York State Police, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, the Utica Police Department and the Rome Police Department. 

It is staffed by law enforcement investigators; four victim advocates and a therapist from the YWCA Mohawk Valley; mental health counselors from the county family and community services department and from the Center for Family Life and Recovery; and caseworkers from county Child Protective Services. 

The Oneida County Child Advocacy Center investigates cases of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse. It also provides services for children who are victims.

The goal is to provide children who have been victims with everything they need under one roof, said Undersheriff Joseph Lisi, a former director of the center. They can get counseling, talk to investigators and undergo medical exams in a kid-friendly room, he said. 

The goal is to make a case against the person who abused the child, but also to make sure that the child heals over time, Lisi said.  


Lisi also urged people not to hesitate to report concerns and never to think that something won’t happen again.

“It doesn’t go away,” he said. “It only gets worse.”  

Colleen Fahy-Box, commissioner of the county department of family and community services, did not attend the event, but did include a statement in the press release offering the public more advice on how to help. 

Neglect happens when families don’t have the necessary resources to raise a healthy child due to economic and social inequity, she said. 

“That is why it is critical that as community members, we recognize the part every person plays in preventing child abuse,” Fahy-Box said. “Small acts of kindness and concern, involvement in civic organizations that support youth and families, awareness of the needs of the children we interface with on a regular basis, being a resource to a struggling parent or child, and many other such actions play a critical role in reducing child maltreatment and creating happier and healthier environments for children to grow and thrive.”   

By the numbers

Nationally, more than 600,000 children in the United States endure abuse each year, according to statistics supplied by the county. One in 10 children are sexually abused before age 18.

Across New York, more than 18,500 children received services for physical and sexual abuse at a child advocacy center last year.  

Out of the child abuse calls Oneida County received last year, Child Protective Services investigations led to 171 neglect/abuse petitions about 465 children in 225 families, according to the county. The outcomes led to 422 youth put into placements with another 590 open cases.  

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The breakdown of the 1,041 cases investigated by the child advocacy center include:  

  • 944 sexual abuse cases. 
  • 12 physical abuse cases. 
  • 24 neglect cases. 
  • 223 children age six or younger. 
  • 367 kids ages seven to 12. 
  • 390 teens between ages 13 and 18. 
  • 661 girls. 
  • 319 boys. 

If a child is in immediate danger, call 911. If you suspect that a child may be a victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect or maltreatment, call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720. 

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