Each year, countless children suffer from abuse and neglect. All too often they are victimized by the very adults charged with protecting and providing for them, adults these children love and need. Unfortunately, in our efforts to come to the aid of abused children, child abuse professionals may inadvertently cause additional suffering to child victims and their families, as our civil and criminal justice systems were generally not created with child victims in mind. Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) were established in an effort to enhance the sensitivity and responsiveness of these systems, thereby minimizing the impact of the trauma, providing vital medical and mental health services for these children and their families, and facilitating the prosecution of perpetrators through coordination of services and implementation of a collaborative approach.
Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) operate on the fundamental belief that the best interests of the child victim should be protected as the case proceeds through the investigation and prosecution stages and beyond. CACs offer a child-friendly environment where child victims can feel safe talking about it, in the event something has happened to them. Additionally, CACs ensure that the information and therapeutic services necessary to the healing process are readily accessible for these children and their protective family members.
CACs support and coordinate the efforts of a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of professionals consisting of:
- Law enforcement investigators
- Child protective service workers
- Medical professionals
- Mental Health Professionals
- Victim Advocates
- Child Advocacy Centers
In many communities, other local service providers may also serve on the MDT. In the neutral setting of the CAC, team members can collaborate on strategies that will aid investigators and prosecutors without causing further harm to the child. This innovative multidisciplinary approach significantly increases the likelihood of a successful outcome in court and long-term healing for the abused child, the most vulnerable of crime victims.
CAC multidisciplinary teams collaborate to:
- Coordinate investigations
- Limit, when possible, the number of times each child is interviewed
- Provide comfortable, child-friendly settings for interviews
- Reduce the child victims’ travel to investigative agencies
- Coordinate medical and mental health services
- Increase public awareness about the incidence and impact of child abuse