Roundtable discusses contributions of Children’s Advocacy Centers

Rep. Fleming hosts hearing to highlight work to aid victims, children

HARRISBURG, Feb. 29 – Relatives and caregivers of child victims of abuse need to know where to turn in the wake of abuse to receive the essential services and support they need. Pennsylvania Children’s Advocacy Centers deliver safety, justice and healing by coordinating and providing essential services. The House Majority Policy Committee hosted a roundtable discussion at UPMC Child Advocacy Center of Central PA, one of 41 CACs in the state.    

“When I learned about Child Advocacy Centers and their mission, I was so relieved these organizations and professionals are in place to support children throughout the state,” said Policy Committee roundtable host Rep. Justin Fleming, who represents portions of Lower Paxton and Susquehanna townships as well as the borough of Penbrook in Dauphin County. “If we really want to support children and their recovery, then we need to prioritize Child Advocacy Centers.”   

The roundtable included lawmakers and UPMC CAC of Central PA Director of Operations Lynn Carson; CACs of PA Executive Director Chris Kirchner; Cumberland County District Attorney Sean McCormack; UPMC in Central PA Vice President of Mission Effectiveness and DEI Tina Nixon; Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth Administrator Marissa McClellan; PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency Director of Office of Research, Evaluation & Strategic Policy Kristen Kenyon; and a parent of a child assisted by CAC.

CACs facilitate a coordinated response among all investigative agencies. They provide a place and a process that ensures children receive a prompt response and all the services needed to be safe and heal from abuse.

“CACs are invaluable resources for our most vulnerable, providing services for more than 15,000 children in a single year – helping children recover from neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and trauma,” said House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro, who worked as a victim advocate in Erie County before he began serving in the House.

The CAC of Central PA, which dates back to 1994, was one of the first CACs opened in the state. A CAC is typically contacted by law enforcement or child protective services following signs of child abuse, and the CAC in turn coordinates a medical exam and mental health services for children.

“We want to make sure every child in the state has access to a children’s advocacy center with everything a child needs to be safe and heal from abuse,” CACs of PA Executive Director Chris Kirchner said.

The CAC conducts a forensic interview to understand what abuse might be taking place or the specific trauma experienced by the child. A forensic interview is conducted in the presence of investigative agencies. The CAC of Central PA typically serves between 1,100 and 1,200 children a year in Dauphin, Cumberland and surrounding counties.

“Child advocacy centers provide a safe space for kids, and every child deserves the services of a CAC,” said UPMC CAC of Central PA Director of Operations Lynn Carson. “We need more awareness, acceptance and utilization of CACs across the commonwealth.”

Officials explained the difficulty encountered during investigations and how a lack of collaboration between agencies can create difficulties for the child and criminal investigations.   

“You have situations where everyone is supporting the child, but you also have situations where everyone has shunned the child – and relatives are only offering support to the perpetrator,” McCormack said. “Those are the situations when a CAC is essential at providing the services these children need not only to survive but also recover from abuse and trauma.”

According to 2022 statistics, of the 15,735 children served in Pennsylvania by CACs, 75% received services following alleged sexual abuse, 20% received services following alleged physical abuse, and 5% received services following alleged neglect, witnesses to violence or drug endangerment.  

“After listening to the discussion of officials in the room, I was struck by a lack of universal coverage across the state, particularly in rural areas with no CACs in close proximity,” said Rep. Dave Madsen, who represents portions of Harrisburg, Highspire Paxtang and Steelton and Lower Swatara and Swatara Townships in Dauphin County. “CACs step in to meet children at their level to provide safety, and while they have seen growth in the last 25 years we learned that there’s more work to be done in making sure all children have these resources.”

Information about this policy event and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at Photos to be used for publication can be found at