By DiDi Ellis

A child advocacy center (CAC) is a child-friendly facility where members of local multidisciplinary teams meet to discuss and make decisions regarding the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases. Members of the team include law enforcement agencies, Child Protection Services, mental health providers, forensic medical examiners, prosecutors, youth court personnel, family and victim advocates, and forensic interviewers. Some CACs are nonprofits, and the CAC work is their only focus, while others are part of a larger umbrella agency that provides a multitude of services.

CACs provide an array of services to children and families when there has been an allegation of child abuse reported to an investigative agency. In communities where a CAC is present, forensic interviews are routinely conducted at the CAC by interviewers trained in the ChildFirst protocol. Forensic interviews are child-focused, non-leading or non-suggestive interviews that are used to elicit a narrative account of any and all adverse experiences a child has had. Agencies with investigative responsibility, such as law enforcement and Child Protection Services, are present to observe the forensic interview through closed-circuit television in order to minimize the number of times a child has to share their experiences.

At the CAC, family and victim advocates meet with the supportive caregivers of the children to assist in identifying the needs of caregivers, children and their families. Supportive services include, but are not limited to, crisis assessment and intervention, education regarding victims’ rights and crime victims’ compensation, referrals for trauma-focused mental health services, and referrals for forensic medical examinations. Additionally, CACs are responsible for coordinated case management of all cases, which includes multidisciplinary team facilitation of monthly case review meetings. Some CACs offer on-site mental health services, while others partner solely with community resources to meet those needs for families and children.

The foundation of the child advocacy center is built on the premise of collaboration. The agencies that are responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and serving in these cases all need a little something different within their respective roles, but the center of all of our work should be the needs of the child. Collaboration leads to more effective solutions for these children and their families. Together we help amplify the voice of our communities’ most vulnerable and promote hope, healing and justice for each and every one.

Didi is Executive Director of the Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center in Hattiesburg.