The Importance of Child Advocacy Centers
CACS are child-focused centers that coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of child abuse while helping abused children heal. CACs emphasize the coordination of investigation and intervention services by bringing together professionals and agencies as a multidisciplinary team to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases. Although some aspects of a multidisciplinary approach to child abuse can exist without a facility, a supportive, child-focused approach facility is fundamental to a CAC. The location is designed to create a sense of safety and security for the children.
There are now over 750 CACS nationwide, with new centers developing in communities across the country.
Each CAC is designed to meet the needs of its particular community.
CACS Prevent Abuse and Keep Children Safe.
CACS provide intervention services. But CACs also share the goal of stopping abuse before it even starts. Nationwide, and in just the last year, CACS provided child sexual prevention to more than 500,000 individuals adults and children. Often, this was in a school setting but CACs were also out in the community meeting with civic organizations, church groups, and neighborhood groups, to help educate and raise awareness so the community can stop this devastating pattern before it starts. CACs Save Money.
Coordinated investigations are more efficient and more effective; CACs make this a reality.
All CACs have multidisciplinary teams that meet regularly to plan cooperative protocols and review cases that are being investigated. Multidisciplinary teams are more successful in reducing duplication, ensuring cases do not fall through the cracks, and resolving more cases successfully. Collaborative approaches to investigation bring wider viewpoints into making decisions, help identify more resources for children, and provide a smoother experience for children and families; and CACs provide ongoing training to local communities to help support the use of multidisciplinary teams. Communities with CACs are more likely to review cases regularly, helping to work through particularly difficult cases and resolve them with the team’s input. Not surprisingly, all 50 states have passed legislation requiring government agencies to collaborate on cases of child abuse and CACs are the key component to ensuring ongoing and effective collaboration. Beyond the common sense effects, there are real, demonstrable cost-savings to using CACs. A cost-benefit analysis showed that traditional investigations cost 36% more than CAC collaborative investigations. CACs can save as much as $1,0000 per child abuse case by streamlining the process, creating efficiencies and providing effective services. As the National District Attorney’s Association stated “difficult economic times demand that police, prosecutors, and child abuse prevention professionals increase their efforts to stop child abuse through proven, effective and cost-effective methods. Multidisciplinary child abuse investigation teams (MDTs) u association with child advocacy centers (CACs) show the greatest potential for cost-efficient and effective prosecution.”
CACs Hold Offenders Accountable
Increased use of CACs and multidisciplinary teams has resulted in increased successful prosecutions of child abuse perpetrators. In a study comparing two districts of a large urban area over a period of 10 years, felony prosecutions of child sexual abuse doubles in the district in which the use of CACs remained constant.
Other studies have shown that communities with CACs were able to make faster decisions to charge criminals with crimes against children. Research also shows that defendants convicted of sex crimes against children were sentenced to longer prison terms when they had been investigated via the CAC-multidisciplainary model.
What accounts for these differences? Over the last three decades, CACs have been at the forefront of efforts to improve, refine and define the way victims are interviewed, and to create a research-based methodology for forensic interviewing techniques. The methods that specialized interviewers now use are based on extensive research showing the best ways to interview children to increase their accuracy and completeness and produce sound evidence. There is a considerable agreement among experts about best practices.
Moreover, CACs are significantly more likely to record the forensic interview than non-CAC agencies conducting interviews. Recorded forensic interviews are more accurate than notes taken by interviewers, who are focused on the interview itself and not providing a completer summary. Children’s disclosures provide a powerful incentive for suspects to confess and recorded disclosures provide direct, reliable and often the only evidence to corroborate the allegations and prosecute crimes. Recording also makes the interview process transparent, so that all parties know exactly how the child was questioned. And recording pushes interviewers to become more proficient and self-aware. Not only are offenders held accountable, but the system itself adheres to higher standards, ensuring a true measure of justice.
CACs Help Child Victims Heal
Child victims of sexual abuse who receive services at CACs are twice as likely to receive specialized medical exams, and four times so in cases not involving penetration. Children seen at CACs are also more likely to receive referrals for specialized mental health treatment.
Prompt medical examinations of suspected child victims are critical to collect physical and other disclosure evidence, to begin treatment for sexually transmitted infections and to provide reassurance to the victims.
Sexual abuse victims are very likely to experience emotional trauma. They need-and deserve- appropriate mental health help. Here again the studies show that children seen at CACs were more often referred for behavioral health assessment than those from communities without CACs.
CACs recognize and respond to the need for specialized child abuse victims, and have focused on treatments that have a proven track record. CACs have been at the forefront of the movement to develop specific treatment for child abuse victims, and are working directly with mental health professionals who design and test new protocols for mental health screenings especially for CACs. Moreover, the CAC movement had advanced the use of proven behavioral health treatment methods, including Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
CACs Are Effective
Research demonstrates that caregivers in CAC cases are more satisfied with the investigation than those from non-CAC comparison sites. 97% of caregivers would tell others to seek help at a CACS.
CACs Promote Best Practice
National accreditation standards for CACS require that:
Forensic interviewers have received at least 40 hours of training, participate in peer review, and continue to participate in on-going training. Medical providers must have specialized training in child sexual abuse and must participate in continuing education.
The Multidisicplinary Team response is the core of the CAC model, bringing professionals together to ensure better-informed decision making and case planning. In a recent survey, 97% of Multidisciplinary Team members, which include law enforcement, medical staff, prosecutors, therapists, Child Protection Workers, and advocates, stated that working within the CAC model helped them with their cases.