The National Children’s Alliance (NCA) is the national association and accrediting body for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs). NCA opened in 1994 and has created 10 standards for accreditation, with member CACs across the country and state chapter organizations in all 50 states. There are three levels of membership, Accredited, Associate and Affiliate, with different requirements for each level.
Victim advocacy services are essential to support the child victim and the non-offending caregiver in the aftermath of an allegation of abuse. A victim/family advocate is present at the time of the forensic interview to meet with the MDT during the pre-meeting to discuss and share information with the MDT. The advocate then meets with the caregiver during the forensic interview to provide support, information and referrals.
It is essential for CACs and MDTs to discuss the emotional, mental, and physical toll from working in the field of child abuse. Individual staff should have the opportunity to evaluate their own resilience and learn strategies to combat vicarious trauma/compassion fatigue and burnout. We need to educate new team members, as well as seasoned employees, to understand the impact, identify any physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms, to then address ways to build resilience.
A Multidisciplinary team working on child abuse cases includes: law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, victim advocacy, medical and mental health professionals. The MDT members usually sign on to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Interagency that represents the shared commitment to the mission, purpose and intent of the CAC and the MDT approach for child abuse cases in our community.
Trauma-informed, evidence-based mental health care is a specialized clinical process designed to assess and mitigate the long-term adverse impacts of trauma or other diagnosable mental health conditions. CACs provide services on-site or refer to community agencies that provide trauma-informed, evidence-based mental health treatment for child abuse victims and their non-offending family members. Evidence-based, trauma-informed mental health treatments for child abuse victims are listed below and additional information can be found at National Traumatic Stress Network or The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare.
All children who are suspected victims of child sexual abuse are entitled to a medical exam conducted by a specialized medical provider. CACs/MDTs can share with families and partner agencies, the importance of why a medical exam is important:
- To ensure the health and well being of the child
- To reassure the child that everything is okay with their body
- To diagnose and treat medical conditions that may be related to sexual abuse
- To document any possible physical and forensic findings
- To allow for collection of evidence that may be present on the child’s body or clothing within 72 (pre-pubescent children/120 hours adolescents
Forensic interviewers conduct legally-sound, developmentally-appropriate, culturally-competent, neutral, fact-finding interviews of children (and sometimes adults with disabilities) in accordance with CAC referral policy. Forensic interviews are provided at CACs across the country as part of the multidisciplinary team response. Interviews are coordinated with the multidisciplinary team to avoid duplicative interviewing and minimize trauma to those being interviewed.
Cultural considerations should be integrated into the daily operations and protocol development of the CAC. The CAC needs to review policies and procedures for services to families throughout the life of the case, not just at the forensic interview. CACs should conduct a community assessment, at a minimum every three years, of the demographics of your community in order to identify un-served or under-served populations.
Case Review is the formal process through which professionals share facts and observations that inform team decisions and assist participating professionals to make decisions about cases. Case review is a core standard of an accredited member CAC program. Case review presents an opportunity for each professional to share their unique knowledge and skill with the other team members and allows for full discussion on determining the optimum case plan and next steps.