Masquerade ball will support services for abused children

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For its annual gala in March, the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club members and guests will hide their faces.

A masquerade ball, the planners hope to symbolize the hidden fear abused children experience. The “Unmasking Fear, Building Hope,” gala 7 p.m., March 1 at the Duquesne University Power Center Ballroom will benefit  A Child’s Place at Washington, the new satellite program of A Child’s Place at Mercy, a fully accredited Child Advocacy Center. A Child’s Place at Mercy is part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, a regional health and social service nonprofit.

WTAE-TV’s Andrew Stockey will serve as emcee for the evening. Tickets are $85.

The event is black-tie-optional. A Child’s Place at Washington is located in Washington Health System on Wilson Avenue in Washington, Pa. The new office, off of the emergency room at Washington Health System, opens tomorrow.

“At the end of the evening, we will ‘unmask’ to symbolize standing up for the fear abused children face,” said Maria Fruscello of Castle Shannon, public relations chairperson for the women’s club. The second theme of the evening, “building hope” refers to growing the new Washington location of A Child’s Place.

“I think what they are trying to convey is wonderful. For some kids it is a huge relief to be ‘uncovered,’”’ said pediatrician and medical director of A Child’s Place at Mercy, Mary Carrasco, M.D.

This is the fifth location for A Child’s Place at Mercy. The child advocacy centers provide a safe environment for forensic interviews, medical examinations and referrals for support services for children who are suspected victims of abuse and neglect. All offices are under the medical direction of Dr. Carrasco.

Children are referred from a variety of sources including parents, physicians and detectives. “Sometimes a child makes a disclosure and parents don’t know where to go. We see a lot of cases of sexual abuse, but also physical and mental abuse,” Dr. Carrasco said.

A Child’s Place provides evaluations and referrals for treatment. One interview is conducted by a trained professional to save the child from having to undergo multiple interviews. The interview is observed by other professionals, sometimes detectives and caseworkers, behind a one-way mirror.

When there is an allegation of abuse or neglect, a specially trained forensic interviewer — usually a psychologist, a social worker, or child development specialist — will interview the child. All have extensive knowledge and expertise in working with children and are staff members of A Child’s Place, Dr. Carrasco said.

Based on the results, the information progresses to a referral or can be made available for use in court.

Visits are usually paid for by regional or state crime victim funds, but if the criteria are not met, supplemental funds are needed from fund raising endeavors such as the gala, according to Dr. Carrasco.

A Child’s Place at Mercy serves as the official Allegheny County Child Advocacy Center and is an accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance. There are three locations in Allegheny County: Pittsburgh Police headquarters on the North Side, Allegheny Police headquarters in Point Breeze, Uptown in Mercy Health Center on Locust Street; and one on Norwin Avenue in North Huntingdon.

Founded in 1968, the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club has about 80 members and its goal is to give back to the community through civic, philanthropic and social activities. Membership is open to women living in Mt. Lebanon and surrounding communities. Its efforts focus on supporting organizations that improve the lives of women and children. Last year the annual gala benefited Operation Backpack and raised $20,000.

A Child’s Place at Mercy, details, or to donate, For gala tickets,

Jill Thurston, freelance writer:

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