The Child Advocacy Model
What are child advocacy centers?
Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) developed in the late 1980s to help coordinate communities’ responses to child sexual abuse victims. The National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama was the first center that operated under this model. Child advocacy centers coordinate services to the victim in one child-friendly location, working with a multidisciplinary team that is usually comprised of representatives from child protection, law enforcement, prosecution, medical and mental health professionals and the juvenile/family court. This coordination expedites the investigation and when appropriate, prosecution of abuse cases while ensuring that victims receive effective, sensitive and immediate support in a setting that puts their needs first. The collaboration dramatically reduces the number of times a child is questioned about the abuse.
Why are child advocacy centers needed?
Discovering that a child has been the victim of abuse, neglect or another form of trauma can be very destabilizing to a child and their caregivers. Telling someone about the abuse, especially when it is committed by a family member or someone close to the child, can also be a frightening, difficult experience. Often, when a child reveals sexual or physical abuse, the subsequent investigation by child protective, medical and law enforcement agencies is also confusing and frightening. Prior to the rise of CACs, a public policy study, Victim Services of New York City found that on average, a child sexual abuse victim has to repeat the story of the abuse to eight different people, some of whom interview a child several times. Before CACs were available the child would be taken to the professional, whereas now the child is brought to the CAC and all the professional come to the child. Centers provide the children with a friendly and welcoming place where they are able to get the assistance they need.
Where are child advocacy centers located?
There are now more than 400 CACs and 246 associate member CACs across the country, with 16 centers in the state of Missouri. They vary in size and format, but they all share a common goal: to provide a safe haven for child abuse victims. A list of accredited centers by state can be found on NCA's website or on the Missouri KidsFirst website.