What is a Children’s Advocacy Center?
Children’s advocacy centers (CACs) are community based, child-focused and child-friendly facilities where representatives from many disciplines meet to discuss and make decisions about investigation, treatment and prosecution of child abuse cases. The primary goal of all CACs is to ensure that children are not further victimized by the intervention systems designed to protect them.
Key components of a child advocacy center include:
- Child-appropriate/child-friendly facilities both physically and psychologically safe for clients
- A designated legal entity responsible for program and fiscal operations
- Culturally competent and diverse policies, practices and procedures
- A multidisciplinary team for response to child abuse allegations including law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical, victim advocacy and children’s advocacy center
- Forensic interviews conducted in a neutral, fact-finding nature and coordinated to avoid duplicative interviewing
- Medical evaluation at the center or through coordination and referral with other providers
- Victim support/advocacy to coordinate with other providers throughout investigation and legal proceedings
- Case review to provide team-discussion and information sharing throughout the case
- Case tracking to monitor case progress and case outcomes
CACs - a National Model
Nationally, there are 435 accredited Child Advocacy Centers providing services to more than 175,000 children. More than one third of these children are under the age of six. The average age of a CAC client is nine. In addition, there are at least another 200 CAC programs in various stages of development nationally.
The Washington, D.C. based National Children's Alliance is the national membership organization and accrediting body for Child Advocacy Centers. Founded in 1996, NCA serves as a sub-grantor of more than $8 million dollars in federal funds from the United States Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to support the development, growth and sustainability of CAC programs nationally.
Benefits of Child Advocacy Centers to the Community
Communities that have developed a CAC experience many benefits: more immediate follow-up to child abuse reports; more efficient medical and mental health referrals; reduction in the number of child interviews; increased successful prosecutions; and consistent support for child victims and their families.
Professionals involved in multidisciplinary work report greater appreciation and understanding of the mission of other disciplines; better access to cross-disciplinary training, and more informed decision making. This comprehensive approach, with follow-up services provided by the CAC, ensures that children receive child-focused services in a child friendly environment - one in which the needs of children and families come first.
Reprinted from Putting Standards into Practice: A Guide to Implementing NCA Standards for Children's Advocacy Centers 2000.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Learn more about child abuse and spread the word to family, friends and neighbors on how to keep our children safe.
- Report cases of suspected child abuse to the proper authorities and encourage others to do the same.
- Donate your time or your money to a child advocacy center.
- Organize a fundraising event to support your local child advocacy center or child abuse prevention program.
Standards for Accredited Members
The purpose of Children’s Advocacy Centers is to provide a comprehensive, culturally competent, multidisciplinary team response to allegations of child abuse in a dedicated, child-friendly setting. A child appropriate/child-friendly setting and a multidisciplinary team are essential to accomplish the mission of Children’s Advocacy Centers and for accredited membership in National Children’s Alliance.
The following program components are necessary for accredited membership in the National Children’s Alliance:
Child-Appropriate/Child-Friendly Facility: A Children’s Advocacy Center provides a comfortable, private, child-friendly setting that is both physically and psychologically safe for clients.
Multidisciplinary Team (MDT): A multidisciplinary team for response to child abuse allegations includes representation from the following disciplines:
law enforcement, mental health, Children’s Advocacy Center
child protective services, medical
prosecution, victim advocacy
Organizational Capacity: A designated legal entity responsible for program and fiscal operations has been established and implements basic sound administrative practices.
Cultural Competency and Diversity: The CAC promotes policies, practices and procedures that are culturally competent. Cultural competency is defined as the capacity to function in more than one culture, requiring the ability to appreciate, understand and interact with members of diverse populations within the local community.
Forensic Interviews: Forensic interviews are conducted in a manner which is of a neutral, fact finding nature, and coordinated to avoid duplicative interviewing.
Medical Evaluation: Specialized medical evaluation and treatment are to be made available to CAC clients as part of the team response, either at the CAC or through coordination and referral with other specialized medical providers.
Therapeutic Intervention: Specialized mental health services are to be made available as part of the team response, either at the CAC or through coordination and referral with other appropriate treatment providers.
Victim Support/Advocacy: Victim support and advocacy are to be made available as part of the team response, either at the CAC or through coordination with other providers, throughout the investigation and subsequent legal proceedings.
Case Review: Team discussion and information sharing regarding the investigation, case status and services needed by the child and family are to occur on a routine basis.
Case Tracking: CACs must develop and implement a system for monitoring case progress and tracking case outcomes for team components.