Clackamas County nonprofit serves, evaluates suspected child abuse victims

Every square foot of the Children’s Center was designed with children’s well-being and safety in mind. Its rooms are beautifully designed and filled with objects to entertain and comfort.

It’s a place that few citizens are aware of. Yet for those who need it, Children’s Center can provide a lifeline.

The center is a Clackamas County nonprofit agency providing medical assessment, forensic interviews and family support services for suspected victims of child abuse and neglect.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE  - Executive Director Barbara Peschiera is spearheading the Children's Center awareness campaign during National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.The facility occupies 7,500 square feet of a 10,000-foot building at 1713 Penn Lane in Oregon City. It is divided into two identical halves, separated by a central reception area. Two families in need can be seen at a time, one on each side, in complete privacy.

To each side of the reception area, an interview room contains toys, games and videos to occupy children of any age. Non-offending caregivers may accompany children only to this part of the facility. The interview room contains a separate area filled with educational literature for caregivers.

“To heal a child you need to focus on the whole entire family,” Development and Communications Director Shauna Lugar said. “We want to empower (non-offending caregivers) so they know how to protect their children.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Child interviewer Sue Lewis is one of 20 staff members at Children's Center. She is shown in one of the facility's two examination rooms.Following the family interview, a child advances into the facility with staff. The next step is an exam room, where the child’s consent is obtained for each procedure.

“Everything that is done is done at the discretion of the child: ‘Will you sit up here on this table?’ ‘Can we look at your ear, nose and throat?’” Lugar said.

Examiners use a special camera called a colposcope to take a quick, high-quality digital picture if sexual abuse is suspected.

Another test requires a strand of hair, which is sent offsite to a lab for testing for traces of nine drugs such as oxycodone, morphine and marijuana.

A microphone in the room’s ceiling allows observers such as law enforcement officers or a Department of Human Services caseworker to hear the conversation without seeing the exam take place. The only people in the room are the child, the examiner and an interviewer whose job is to take notes during the exam.

“A lot of time disclosures happen first in this room,” Lugar said.

The third stage happens in an interview room, where the observers sit unseen behind a two-way mirror. A camera records the interview, and the child is made aware of both those things.

The interview can last for 20 minutes or for up to two hours.

“It’s a multistep, specific interview process, which is all about building a relationship with the child,” Executive Director Barbara Peschiera said.

“In a way, we’re not even an advocate. We’re a neutral space,” Lugar said.

One in five cases seen at Children’s Center will be subpoenaed for court.

“That’s the benefit of our being neutral,” Lugar said. “It’s very important that the child doesn’t have to tell the story again.”

Children’s Center performed about 500 assessments in the last fiscal year.

“Those are 500 kids that have been helped,” Lugar said. “We believe the work we do as an intervention center is preventing abuse. Five hundred kids are alive because they walked through our doors.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Executive Director Barbara Peschiera, left, and interviewer Sue Lewis show some of the items in the center's quilt corner, where each child seen is allowed to choose a quilt and a teddy bear to keep.Only one-tenth of child abuse cases are ever reported, it is estimated, and abuse crosses all socio-economic boundaries. Part of the center’s mission is to increase awareness and reporting of child abuse, and with April ushering in National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the center is partnering with Clackamas County businesses and community leaders to launch an awareness and education campaign.

A fundraising luncheon at the Oregon Golf Club on April 30 will cap the month’s activities. Items including Disneyland passes, jewelry and a ride on a World War II amphibious vehicle will be raffled off. Former Portland Trail Blazer Kenny Anderson, a child abuse advocate, will deliver the keynote address.

“He was abused as a young child. At the age of 42 he came to terms with that and saw a counselor for the first time,” Lugar said.

Peschiera approached Anderson to seek his support, and he not only agreed to attend and speak but also offered to waive his fees.

“He feels like it’s a part of his therapy, and it’s a blessing to him,” Peschiera said.

All funds raised will go directly to the center; last year’s event raised $75,000 to supplement the public funding the center receives. About half of the center’s $1.7 million annual budget comes from private fundraising.

Each evaluation costs about $1,900. The center is reimbursed about $900 from the state, from the county and from insurance providers. Fundraising covers the $1,000 balance.

There is no cost to attend the luncheon.

“We’re looking for people who care about kids and have a passion for helping them,” Lugar said.

Raising awareness is even more important than raising money.

“There is a long list of mandatory reporters in Oregon,” Peschiera said. “From our perspective, it should be everyone.”

Clackamas County operates a child abuse hotline: 971-673-7112. Visit Children’s Center online for information about upcoming events:

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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