By Abbie Newman

Pennsylvania won a major victory in the fight against child sexual abuse thanks to U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane. On Jan. 13, Kane ruled against the NCAA, which wanted to use the $60 million fine levied against Penn State as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal outside the commonwealth. Now that the money is staying in Pennsylvania, we must make the most of this opportunity to help children.

The new settlement requires that $12 million remain at Penn State to conduct research on child sexual abuse, with the remaining $48 million going to an endowment fund in the state Treasury. Of the latter amount, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will allocate up to $24 million over the next five years to organizations that best serve child victims of sexual abuse. Child-advocacy centers (CAC) like Mission Kids are among the organizations being considered to receive the funds.

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, which was created in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, at a minimum recommends that there be a child-advocacy center within a two-hour drive of every child in the state. Currently there are 23 centers in Pennsylvania, leaving a significant number of communities without this resource.

Through collaboration with local prosecutors, police, and child-protective services, as well as victim advocacy and medical and mental-health services, CACs ensure that the child is the center of an investigation once abuse is reported. The centers' mission is to achieve healing and justice for victims of child abuse.

CACs are exactly the type of organization that should be supported by the endowment funds, as they offer the services that best meet the goals and stipulations associated with the NCAA settlement. The centers are often nonprofits that serve as a model for how well private-public partnerships can work. In Montgomery County alone, Mission Kids provided services to almost 500 children last year. Since opening in 2009, Mission Kids has provided more than 2,100 recorded forensic interviews, conducted in an age-appropriate and nonleading fashion, in our centrally located facility.

Child-sexual abuse takes place in every community. It is important to learn and recognize the signs of abuse and what to look for if abuse is suspected.

Abusers are often well-known community members. They seek out opportunities to place themselves in close proximity to children, and are master manipulators - not just of children, but adults, too.

By educating citizens and listening to our children, we can do a better job of talking about child-sexual abuse and bringing it into the open so people are more likely to report suspicions or signs of abuse. Once that occurs, CACs are then able to step in as a truth-finding organization, offering a cutting-edge, collaborative intervention in a child-friendly setting that helps victims and their families heal.

Most people have never heard of CACs and are unaware of their dedication to offering services and support to victims - from the reporting of a case through the healing process. In addition, they often provide child-abuse education and prevention programs to community groups.

If you want to learn more about child-advocacy centers, reach out directly to the one in your county. Learn about the programs and services they offer, and volunteer to help. With your support, as well as a little help from the endowment fund, child-advocacy centers can help put an end to child abuse in our communities.

Abbie Newman is executive director and CEO of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center of Montgomery County. www.missionkidscac.org