When Risa Vetri Ferman was a young prosecutor dealing with child abuse cases, she says, “I found that the system we have, the criminal justice system, really did a lot of damage to kids.”
With no clear, single pathway to support children at their most vulnerable, abused kids would be questioned repeatedly, re-traumatized each time they had to tell their story again. So Ferman (who has been serving as Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s District Attorney since 2008) co-founded Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center to advocate for children.
Since the doors opened in September 2009, victims and their families have been able to come to one child-friendly place. All the professionals who deal with child abuse gather in a setting that helps ease the tension everyone is feeling. A trained interviewer talks with the child while team members watch via closed-circuit television. Everyone who needs information about the child’s experience is one room, but the child only has to deal with one, compassionate adult.
Even before a child comes into Mission Kids, the family can check out the Web site and learn how to prepare the child for the interview, what to expect and what services are available. People who witness or suspect child abuse can learn what to watch for, ideas for preventing abuse, what their legal responsibilities are and more.
Mission Kids has a dual mission, to heal those already victimized and to prevent further child abuse. Although their work is vital, they are like so many other organizations dealing with society’s most difficult issues. That is, the only funding they receive is what they can raise. I learned about them when they were competing for a $10,000 grant from Jewelers for Children.
In a perfect world, they would not need to exist. In a slightly less perfect world, they would have assured funding and not have to spend time raising money. In our imperfect world, people like those at Mission Kids do whatever needs to make the world safer for children. They give me hope.