In 1998, Gov. Christie Whitman signed into law a measure authorizing the establishment of four diagnostic and treatment centers for child abuse. One of these, Rowan University's Child Abuse Research Education and Service (CARES) Institute, is opening a satellite location in Vineland on Monday.

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Martin A. Finkel, professor of pediatrics at Rowan and co-director of the CARES Institute, has been involved in developing these treatment centers from the very early stages. He said the state Division of Children and Families has always been in need of access to medical resources, to substantiate abuse concerns and diagnose problems. Centers like CARES — which represents the southern third of New Jersey, from Burlington to Cape May counties — fill that role by helping to identify and treat physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence.

"In the early '80s, I recognized that these are complicated puzzles, and we need professionals from many, many disciplines to work collaboratively," Finkel said.

Along with longtime colleague Dr. Esther Deblinger, Finkel oversees the current CARES facility in Stratford. The opening of the new site in Vineland gives the center about 60 full-time staff members, who provide clinical services as well as research and development.

The satellite location, according to Finkel, is all about accessibility. Transportation to centers like CARES is always an issue, as caseworkers or parents must bring children to them, and clinicians who may practice closer to a child's hometown may not have the specialized skills to treat a victim of abuse.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, Finkel said, the frequency of child abuse incidents has not decreased, although he has seen research indicating a reduction in sexual victimization by adults.

"That reduction, unfortunately, has been picked up by an increase in child-on-child sexual victimization," he said, putting the blame on pornography accessed by older children over the Internet, then acted out on younger friends or even siblings. "It's considered a child welfare issue because the children are not being abused or neglected by an adult caretaker."

Regardless of the source of abuse, Finkel said the opening of CARES' new facility underscores the urgent notion that maltreatment of children, if left unchecked, can result in lifelong problems for victims.

"Any time we have an opportunity to raise public awareness about the issues of child maltreatment, I think there's value in doing that," he said.

If you know of a child who is in immediate danger in New Jersey, call 911 as well as 1-877-NJ-ABUSE.