On the heels of the recommendations of the Child Protection Task Force, which included funding for Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) as priority, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation authored by Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton) to create a sustainable funding stream for these vital treatment programs across Pennsylvania.

A CAC is essentially a one-stop-shop treatment program for abused children that brings together doctors, nurse, prosecutors, social workers and law enforcement. This multidisciplinary approach gives abused children the best chance to recover and also provides the most effective way to gather evidence to bring perpetrators to justice.

"I have been working to get this legislation passed into law for the past several years and was pleased when the report from the Child Protection Task Force also recognized the need for a reliable funding stream to support Child Advocacy Centers in the Commonwealth," said Harhart. "The number of documented cases of child abuse in this country, as well as here in Pennsylvania, is heartbreaking and these centers have a proven track record of helping children who have been victimized, as well as apprehending and prosecuting their perpetrators."

According to the 2011 Annual Child Abuse Report published by the Department of Public Welfare, 34 children died in Pennsylvania as a result of abuse, and 33 died in 2010. Furthermore, there were more than 3,400 substantiated cases of child abuse in Pennsylvania in 2011, with more than 50 percent involving sexual abuse.

"We have an obligation to protect our children, and with the help of CADs, we can help treat those who have been victimized and work to bring their perpetrators to justice, so more children are not harmed," said Harhart. "I have had to get creative in finding a funding method that does not burden taxpayers, yet provides a meaningful amounts of money that can help support these great programs and make sure every child is within a reasonable distance from a center. I think my legislation is a great start."

House Bill 316 would establish a grant program supported by a $15 fee assessed on all defendants found guilty of a crime in Pennsylvania. The money (about $2.2 million per year) would be provided to existing CADs and those wishing to establish new CACs. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency would administer the grant program.

Although Pennsylvania has 67 counties, there are only 21 CACs which are currently supported through federal funding, grants, donations and fundraising events.

In addition to the fee for CACs, under Harhart's legislation, the current $10 fee placed on anyone convicted of a crime that goes to support domestic violence centers and rape crisis centers would be increased to $15. The increase will raise about $700,000 in additional funding for domestic violence centers and rape crisis centers.

House Bill 316 now goes to the full House for a vote.