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EAC Network expands to Riverhead to provide services for children across East End

To help aid a child who was the victim of abuse, the EAC Network turns to its “multidisciplinary team.”

The child advocacy center — whose name stands for “empower, assist, care” — features a team of forensic interviewers, case managers, social workers, health professionals and more.

“So coming to the EAC means that every child who experiences trauma has the same access to information and resources and compassion and care and community,” said Neela Mukherjee Lockel, the CEO of EAC Network, in a recent interview. “The center itself is a child-friendly, family-friendly space.”

Officials from the nonprofit have been working to raise awareness within the community and local law enforcement agencies about its child advocacy center in Riverhead and the services it provides across the East End. The Riverhead child advocacy center opened in August 2019 before the ensuing pandemic made it harder to connect with the community.

The center helps assist in investigations for child victims of abuse by providing a trauma informed setting for forensic interviews, exams and more in child abuse cases. 

“All of the key players that are necessary or important to have that will want and need access to information to move forward, whether it’s to provide health services to the child, whether it’s to investigate the case, whether it’s to figure out how [the Department of Social Services] has to respond or get involved,” Ms. Mukherjee Lockel said. “All of those individuals are already working together in a coordinated way.”

According to the EAC Network site, 92% of children know the perpetrator and 65% of all reported child abuse cases involve sexual abuse.

EAC Network’s main child advocacy center is located in Central Islip and assisted 450 children last year, according to its website. It has operated for 50 years to provide social services across Long Island and New York City. The Riverhead site opened in partnership with the Department of Social Services to provide the North Fork and East End easier access to the child advocacy centers’ resources, Ms. Mukherjee Lockel said.

“There’s tremendous value to all the parties who are involved in this, to use the CAC,” she said. “We’re not only a resource to the child and the family, but [we’re a resource] to all of the partners.””

The Riverhead center currently assists around 60 to 70 kids per year, Ms. Mukherjee Lockel said.

As part of EAC Network’s outreach efforts, it hosted an open house at its Roanoke Avenue site last month, which happened to be the first time local officials toured the facility due to the pandemic. Ms. Mukherjee Lockel said that the open house had been well attended.

Ms. Mukherjee Lockel also presented to Riverhead Town Board two weeks ago along with Andrea Ramos Topper, the division director for children’s services, Robert Stricoff, the chief development officer, and Chris Kelly, the director of development.

At the presentation, Ms. Ramos Topper outlined all of the other outreach the child advocacy center does within the community.

“We go to the schools, we go to the PTA, we go to places of faith and worship to inform the public about services that we provide as well as red flags,” she said. 

Part of the outreach includes explaining to community members how to keep children safe and what to do if someone suspects their child is being abuses.

“[We] explain to them a little bit about the process of these investigations which can also be somewhat intimidating and at times even prevent parents or family members from making these reports because they’re afraid of what that’s going to look like,” she said. “So to be able to provide that sort of support for them and for the families is also critical.”

At the board meeting, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the board would put in a resolution to allocate $25,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to help the CAC with additional funding.

“We came cross with a partnership which is what I stated at your grand opening, that I wanted to form a partnership and I think this is a good start,” Ms. Aguiar said at the board meeting.

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