Fulton, NY ? One of the benchmarks for a strong community is the overall health of its residents. United Way of Greater Oswego County helps to fund 16 human services programs that focus specifically on improving the health and well-being of Oswego County residents. Two of which that are vital to that mission are the Legal Aid Society and the Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County (CAC).
Since 2013 the Legal Aid Society Mid-State NY has provided legal services to help Oswego County residents that have been victims of domestic violence. Nationwide less than 20% of the individuals that need legal representation for cases regarding domestic violence are able to obtain it. According to Legal Aid Society Executive Director Paul Lupia that figure is reflective of Oswego County statistics as well.
?It?s unfortunate that victims of domestic violence have no right to an attorney. There is no court appointed attorney to aid them in their case. Thanks to United Way funding we are able to provide legal aid that allows victims of domestic violence to end abusive relationships. We see to it that victims of domestic violence receive their fair share of marital assets and child support so that they may go on with their lives,? said Lupia.
To date the Legal Aid Society has closed 95 cases that have benefited more than 240 individuals. According to a study by Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman, civil legal aid services have a tremendous impact on the health of a community. For every dollar spent on civil legal aid services the community saved six dollars as less money was being spent on domestic violence shelters and on public assistance because people are receiving their child support from their abusive spouse.
While that is an impressive statistic, Lupia said that you couldn?t put a dollar amount on fundamental fairness. What we do is take the phrase equal justice for all and make it a concrete reality. That?s why I?m in this line of work,? said Lupia.
When it comes to protecting the health of our young people one of the most vital resources available in Oswego County is the Child Advocacy Center. Located at 301 Beech Street in Fulton the CAC provides victim advocacy services to any child that has suffered physical or sexual abuse. Last year 465 children and their families benefited from these services. United Way funding plays a key role in the delivery of these services.
The efforts of the CAC?s victim advocates and mental health counselors are supported in part through United Way funds. Victim Advocates provide support to children and their families from start to finish, CAC Executive Director Karrie Damm explains.
?The bulk of the work for our advocates is the coordination of communication between law enforcement, child protective services, the prosecutor?s office and the courts. From knowing where and when to attend court dates, and understanding the process of a plea bargain, victim advocates work with prosecutors to ensure that families know what will be required of them. This can be a very sensitive and emotional process. Our advocates keep everyone informed and even offer support to the families while in court,? said Damm.
United Way funding also aides the CAC?s mental health services. Counselors at the CAC offer specialized treatment that addresses mental health symptoms and reduce post- traumatic stress. ?Irritability, acting out, wetting the bed, and nightmares are some of the examples of behavioral issues that may arise as a result of the abuse. Our counselors help non-offending parents and guardians gain the knowledge and skills they need to deal with these issues. Parents that engage in our services also learn of choices they made that may have contributed to this and what they can do differently in the future,? explained Damm. ?It requires a tremendous amount of courage to face these truths, but with the support of the mental health counselors, these families can heal.?
Currently there are only 42 certified Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapists in New York State. The CAC employs 4 of those and as a result of United Way funding will be able to maintain and support those therapists this year.
In addition to aiding the services offered through the CAC?s victim advocates and mental health counselors, United Way funding assists the CAC with its basic needs. ?It helps to cover the gaps in our operating costs. It helps us keep the lights on and maintain a child friendly facility,? said Damm.
Since the CAC began receiving United Way funding in 2010 it has approximately doubled the amount of children and families it serves and credits United Way for the ability to do so.
?Our association with United Way has helped in many ways,? said Damm. ?We?ve had the opportunity to visit business and organizations to enlighten their employees about the CAC and how we benefit from their donations to United Way. The reactions we receive are a mixture of surprise, horror, and shock. They find it shocking to discover that there is such a need in their community for the CAC.?
It?s this awareness that the CAC gains as a United Way member agency that Damm hopes will someday lead to a larger facility to better serve the children and families the CAC sees. According to Damm, being able to add another medical examining room, additional space for staff, and making office space available to law enforcement agencies, Department of Social Services, and members of the district attorney?s office would allow for better communication, and a more efficient and productive process for all involved.
?United Way is a valued part of what we do,? added Damm. It?s invested in our local community and serves as a pivotal leader in establishing collaborations that truly benefit Oswego County. United Way is personal in many ways as it provides those that live in our communities, and care enough about others that are less fortunate, the opportunity to make a difference. United Way identifies where the most need is and ensures that the donations it receives goes directly to helping those that are most vulnerable. It?s the how can we help and what can we do attitude that makes United Way so great!?
Cut line for photo: Executive Director of Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County (CAC) Karrie Damm (l) joins CAC Therapists Melanie Proper (c) and Melissa Baker (r) in the agency?s medical examination room. Funded in part by the United Way of Greater Oswego County, the CAC, located at 301 Beech Street in Fulton, is a non-profit organization that works hand-in-hand with local law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, medical providers, mental health providers, and victim advocacy professionals in Oswego County to protect and serve child victims of sexual and physical abuse. For more information on the CAC visit www.oswegocac.org.