New mobile unit will help the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Site help more trauma victims

The agency that supports victims of child abuse and neglect in Onondaga County is hitting the road. The McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center is the latest in New York to set up a special mobile unit to help trauma victims.

The services and education of an organization like McMahon Ryan are crucial right now, with the mental health fallout of the pandemic and record gun violence. McMahon Ryan executive director Colleen Merced said reported cases of abuse and neglect had returned to pre-pandemic levels. She therefore expects this unit to be busy, providing space for off-site interviews of abused children, counseling services as well as prevention and outreach. And it will have a big role in reaching families in rural areas.

“Kids who can’t get to the center because of transportation, maybe their parents don’t have transportation,” Merced said. “It will allow us to bring this unit there and provide all the services that we provide centrally, in this mobile unit.”

Left to right: Colleen Merced, Executive Director of the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Site, Timothy “Noble” Jennings-Bey of the Street Addiction Institute, and Sheila Poole, Commissioner of the NYS Office of Children and Family Services

Sheila Poole, commissioner of the New York State Office of Child and Family Services, said the use of mobile units is an emerging best practice in the field. The state aims to put 13 of them on the road by the end of the year.

“We are thrilled to support this model in the state,” Poole said. “Last year we deployed six of these units, obviously we have more left this year, and so far this year we have served over 800 children.”

This mobile unit will go even further. McMahon Ryan partners with the Street Addiction Institute to help young victims of gun violence trauma. Timothy “Noble” Jennings-Bey said the unit will be able to visit neighborhoods affected by gun violence in real time.

“We know that trauma isolates people and puts them in a psychologically frozen state. So sometimes when you extend an olive branch, they won’t come back,” Jennings-Bey said. “So it’s in our interest to take that process into the community to kind of meet people where they are, so they can be exposed to services.”

Right now the big white Winnebago is empty. There are three spaces, including a closed room that could be used for interviews. Merced hopes to fill it with artwork and make it a place for young people to open up.

“We see it as if a child could know who to talk to if something happened to him, he could stop it, and he could prevent it from happening to someone else,” she said.

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