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Child Advocacy Center
In 2005, negotiations began for the purchase of a new building for all of the Passaic County Prosecutor's specialized units. Many of these units were located in disparate locations around Passaic County under less than optimal conditions. A new building was selected on King Road in Totowa, New Jersey. The building was part of the former research and manufacturing campus of Symrise, Inc., a German based global manufacturer of fragrances, flavors and specialty aromas.

The renovated building became operational in 2007, and is approximately 70,000 sq. ft. It includes all of the specialized investigations units within the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. As part of the nearly $10 million project, former prosecutor Avigliano included in a state of-the-art Child Advocacy Center.

The new Center includes a waiting area, receptionist, small kitchen, offices for the child interview specialist and multidisciplinary team coordinator, a nurse's station with a sexual assault trauma evaluation facility for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, an office for the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and three child interview rooms designed for children of different developmental stages. All victim interviews, including trial preparation, take place at the Center, rather than the Passaic County Administration Building.

Recognizing the difficulty in obtaining reliable accounts of sexual victimization from children due to the inherently intimidating nature of a large office building, Former Prosecutor Fava authorized the opening of the original Passaic County Prosecutor’s Child Advocacy Center in 1996. The original Center was located in a private home owned by Passaic County at 153 New Street, Paterson. The Child Advocacy Center concept is based on the model from Huntsville, Alabama, which opened in May 1985. This Center grew out of a community child sexual abuse task force formed under the guidance of then District Attorney, Robert “Bud” Cramer, Jr. The efforts of the task force resulted in strong working relationships with clear investigative guidelines for an intervention system designed with the child victim as its primary focus. Today, the National Child Advocacy Center enhances the quality of the response to child abuse nationwide through its training and technical assistance.

The purpose of a Child Advocacy Center is to provide a child-friendly, home-like environment, which is designed to meet abused children’s needs for warmth, support and protection. It is an onsite facility that coordinates child and family interviews and investigations, and is also home to the MDT. Crisis intervention is provided at the Center and referrals to services are also offered to families.

The Center also permits the joint investigation process to unfold, by providing space for the assigned caseworker to monitor the child’s interview and a private office in which he/she can meet with the non-offending parent to discuss available services.

The goals of the Center are to develop a formal multi-disciplinary response to child abuse which is designated to meet the needs of child victims and their families; to establish a neutral-based facility where interviews of and services for abused children can be provided; to prevent trauma to the child caused by multiple contacts with different community professionals; to provide the family with the needed services and to assist them in regaining maximum functioning; to maintain open communication and case coordination among community professionals and agencies involved in child protection efforts. It is hoped that these efforts will in turn improve prosecution and ultimately hold more offenders accountable.

The Center houses the MDT Coordinator, the Child Interview Specialist and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner/ Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator. Service delivery begins there. The original Center opened on October 2, 1996.

In 1997, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Child Advocacy Center was accepted for full membership in the National Network of Child Advocacy Centers. The National Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a not-for-profit membership organization of Children’s Advocacy Centers and child advocacy programs. The organization sets national standards for Child Advocacy Centers and provides leadership and advocacy for these programs on a national level.

In gaining acceptance for full membership in this organization, Passaic County met the standards set by the National Network. A lengthy application was submitted, along with the Unit’s written protocol. National Network personnel conducted a site visit and meetings with all of the participants in the Prosecutor’s Multi-Disciplinary Team.

The National Network has 132 members nationwide. In 1997 Passaic County joined the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Child Advocacy Center and the Deirdre O’Brien Child Advocacy Center in Morris County as the third full member CAC in New Jersey. Since 2001, Union, Sussex, Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth and Camden Counties have become full members. The National Network of Children's Advocacy Centers is now known as the National Children's Alliance.

What Makes up the Child Advocacy Center

  • Child Interview Specialist

Former Passaic County Prosecutor Fava authorized the hiring of a Child Interview Specialist (CIS) in 1997. The position is the first of its kind in New Jersey. The CIS is an Agent specifically trained in forensic interviewing of children. The CIS is primarily responsible for all interactions with an alleged child sexual abuse victim. This includes the original interview, all follow-up interviews, and courtroom preparation. The CIS is located within the Child Advocacy Center at 153 New Street.

There are many benefits to the CIS concept, including a more patient, objective interview and subsequently, a more professional, thorough, and skilled courtroom presentation.

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner/ Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator

On May 4th, 2001, former Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco signed legislation directing each County Prosecutor in New Jersey, under the guidelines and supervision of the State Attorney General’s Office and the New Jersey Board of Nursing, to appoint or designate a certified forensic sexual assault nurse examiner to serve as a program coordinator. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are a recognized specialty of emergency nursing. SANE’s make a difference in the quality of care provided to sexual assault victims with immediate, compassionate, culturally sensitive, and comprehensive forensic evaluation and treatment. SANE’s work jointly with County Law Enforcement, the Passaic County Women’s Center, and area hospitals for the best interest of the victim. This team is referred to as the Sexual Assault Response Team (S.A.R.T.). The SANE/ SART Coordinator oversees the everyday running of the program, working with each discipline to make the combined effort a success. Duties of the coordinator include nurse recruitment, scheduling of nursing staff, maintenance of exam sites, training of response team members and community education, and acting as liaison between the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. In January 2002, former Acting Prosecutor Boris Moczula authorized the hiring of Janet Russell, R.N., as the Passaic County SANE/ SART Coordinator. The SANE/ SART Coordinator is located at the Child Advocacy Center at 153 New Street.

Since Janet Russell, RN began as the SANE/SART Coordinator this office has entered into affiliation agreements with three hospitals within the county. They include: St Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, Chilton Hospital, and Passaic Beth Israel Medical Center. Under these agreements each hospital agrees to allow the SANE nurse access to a designated exam room within the hospital to perform sexual assault forensic examinations. Each designated room is equipped with specialized equipment needed to conduct a forensic examination; this office solely maintains these rooms. The agreements also allow for treatment of sexual assault victims for sexually transmitted disease, emergency contraception and medical screening at no cost to the victim. This office has also entered into an affiliation agreement with the Passaic County Women’s Center assuring that all victims of sexual assault would be afforded the availability of an advocate during the sexual assault exam and subsequent proceedings with law enforcement.

The Passaic County SANE/SART presently has 3 nurses who assist the. These nurses fall under the direction of the SANE/SART Coordinator. The coordinator is also responsible for scheduling these nurses to assure that the county has 24 hour a day, 7 days-week coverage. An activation mechanism was developed so that any agency within the county could activate the SART team with one phone call to the county Sheriff’s Department dispatch unit. In June of 2004 the State Board of Nursing certified all nurses working within the SANE Program as Forensic Nurses, Specializing in Sexual Assault. It is now required that any subsequent nurses brought into this program must be certified. The SANE Coordinator is continuously looking for additional nursing staff. Each nurse must be trained according to Passaic County’s Policies and Procedures. Moreover, they must complete three comprehensive exams with the coordinator prior to working on their own. The coordinator maintains all nursing records, and meets with the nurses on a monthly basis to provide continuing education and review of cases.

Within the last year our SANE/SART Program has been able to service 99 victims of sexual assault within Passaic County. Janet Russell continues to work with the hospitals within the county, all law enforcement agencies within the county, as well as this office to provide comprehensive, culturally sensitive care to all victims of sexual assault. Within this coming year we are looking forward to conducting countywide training on the Sexual Assault Response Team. The Attorney General’s Office has recently released the revised Standards for Sexual Assault and these guidelines will be addressed in this training. It will be strongly recommended that each law enforcement agency within the county send representation to this training. This training will also be offered to all hospitals, EMT squads, DYFS, SANE nurses, victim advocates, as well as anyone else interested in attending.

At present Janet Russell also represents this office on the New Jersey Task Force against Sexual Assault and acts as liaison between the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office as well as all municipality law enforcement agencies with regards to sexual assault. In November of 2003 Janet completed “Finding Words” and is now available to assist with Child Interviews as deemed necessary by the SVU. Lastly Nurse Russell is working towards completion Duquesne University’s Master’s Degree in Forensic Nursing.

  • Sex Offender Registrations and Community Notification Unit

On October 31, 1994, former Governor Christine Todd Whitman signed legislation mandating the registration of certain sex offenders and requiring community notification in appropriate circumstances. These laws, codified at N.J.S.A. 2C: 7-1 et seq., are commonly referred to as Megan’s Laws.

The laws place significant responsibility upon the County Prosecutor. The Prosecutor must cooperate with various state agencies in locating, registering, and researching the criminal and social history of sex offenders. Registration involves photographing, fingerprinting, and assembling personal information on sex offenders. Either the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, or the municipal police forward the registration cards to the Prosecutor. After the cards are completed, they are forwarded to the New Jersey State Police for entry into a statewide sex offender database.

In 1995, former Prosecutor Ronald S. Fava created the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Unit. The Unit is designed to implement Megan’s Laws in Passaic County. The Unit presently is part of the Prosecutor’s Special Victims Unit and is supervised by Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph A. Del Russo.

At the close of the 2007 the Unit consisted of Assistant Prosecutor James Pomaco, Registration Intake Clerk Daisy Rosado, Offender Evaluation Clerk Vicky Santiago, Detective Maura Papagni, and Sergeant Frank Santoro. They continue to be busy identifying, tracking, assessing, and providing notification concerning sex offenders. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office is currently responsible for over 1,000 registered sex offenders.

The Unit has been assisting the United States Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by tracking sex offenders who violate our immigration and customs laws-- in addition to cooperating with the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Probation Department, and the municipal police in registering sex offenders.
Risk assessment is among the most important aspects of Megan’s Law. The prosecutor must assess each registrant’s potential to reoffend. The prosecutor must assign the registrant to either TIER I (low risk), TIER II (moderate risk), or TIER III (high risk), using a tool called the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale (RRAS). The RRAS was developed by a group of working professionals in cooperation with the Attorney General. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph A. Del Russo was among the professionals who crafted the scale which was endorsed by the Appellate Division in In the Matter of Registrant E.B.; Application for Judicial Review of Notification and Tier Designation (December 22, 1995; unpublished decision) and ultimately by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in In Re C.A., 146 N.J. 71 (1996).

The decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court in Doe v. Poritz 142 N.J. 1 (1995) requires a hearing for all registrants who object to their status as either TIER II or TIER III. The Court found Megan’s Laws constitutional. However, it ruled that registrants are entitled to due process and are allowed judicial review of the prosecutor’s TIER determination. The Court created a special appellate panel to review any appeals from Superior Court. The prosecutor, as a civil plaintiff, appears at the hearings to defend the risk assessment.
On August 20, 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the United States District Court and found Megan’s Law constitutional. However, it modified the burden of proof. The burden is on the prosecutor to demonstrate risk by clear and convincing evidence.

The Megan’s Law Unit also continues to prosecute offenders for failure to register or violations of Community Supervision for Life.

In 2007, the Unit continued tracking sexual offenders who were civilly committed after serving a term of imprisonment. The Unit also worked with the Attorney General’s Office in the tracking of those sex offenders who were facing commitment hearings under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

Finding Words – New Jersey

In 1998 The National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse (NCPCA) launched Finding Words, a forensic interviewing course for law enforcement officers, child protection caseworkers, and prosecutors. The course was modeled after and developed in collaboration with CornerHouse, a child sexual abuse evaluation and training facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Demand for Finding Words was overwhelming. Over four hundred applications for forty slots were received in the inaugural training. As a result NCPCA decided to form regional training sites throughout the United States. Entitled, Half a Nation by 2010, the initiative was designed to establish high quality Finding Words interview programs in 25 states by the year 2010. New Jersey was among forty states that requested applications. The application was designed in large part by Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office staff. Following a vigorous screening process, New Jersey was selected as one of five states to spearhead Half a Nation. After participating in a yearlong evaluation process, with scrutiny from NCPCA monitors, the New Jersey Program was the third state in the nation certified as a regional training site. Thus, in October 2002, Finding Words-New Jersey (FW-NJ) was born. MDT Coordinator Giselle Henriquez and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph A. Del Russo are among the program’s founding faculty and continue to participate in this noble project with the continuing support of Prosecutor Avigliano. In 2007 Finding Words – New Jersey was presented three times within New Jersey.

  • CART (Child Advocacy Response Team)

On December 1, 2008 Attorney General Anne Milgram directed the establishment of Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) throughout New Jersey. The implementation of the CART protocol recognizes that reports of missing children can be among the most difficult, challenging, and emotionally charged cases within law enforcement. Moreover, it is critical that these investigations commence immediately and that all law enforcement agencies coordinate their response—emphasizing cooperation and communication.