The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a task force to coordinate services for child abuse victims in an effort to lessen the trauma they face.
Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez said that the county has made "significant strides" in recent years to help abused children but that "there is still much to be done."
He said the task force should determine what is needed to better coordinate interviews of children who are brought to the authorities after abuse is reported, medical examinations of victims and investigations into abuse allegations.
"Services to these (child abuse victims) are extremely fragmented and uncoordinated," Vasquez said. "There is a significant shortage of specially trained medical personnel available to the county to perform needed exams of child victims in such a way as to minimize trauma."
'A Small Sense of Security'
The supervisor also said "no effort is made to link young children to an advocate at the initial interview, the one person who could provide a small sense of security in an otherwise frightening process."
The task force will include judges and representatives of the district attorney's office and other county agencies, as well as private groups helping child abuse victims. It will report back to the board in six months on what steps need to be taken to improve services.
Nathan Nishimoto, supervisor of the county's child abuse registry, said the number of reported child abuse incidents has just about doubled in the last five years.
In 1982, there were 7,697 reports of physical or sexual abuse or neglect of children in Orange County, Nishimoto said. Last year, there were 15,115 such reports. In the first 10 months of this year, there were 12,924 reports.
"The most significant contributor" to the increase "has been the McMartin case and media attention on it," Nishimoto said, referring to the widely publicized 1983 accusations of molestation of pupils at the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach.
Originally, seven defendants were charged with more than 300 counts of molesting children at the school, which was founded by Virginia McMartin. But charges later were dropped against five people, leaving only Raymond Buckey, grandson of the school's founder, facing 79 counts and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, facing 20 counts.
Vasquez said he wants to ensure coordination between agencies in the county dealing with child abuse victims so that the youngsters "would not be traumatized by the process."
He said there are gaps in communication among the district attorney's office, which prosecutes abusers of children; the Social Services Agency, which deals with victims of abuse; local law enforcement agencies; hospitals, and the courts.