County, state and regional officials and staff attended the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Chesterfield County Child Advocacy Center Thursday, May 31. The center opened on Jan. 30 and has seen more than 60 children since that time.
A Children’s Advocacy Center, or CAC, is a child-focused, facility-based program where representatives from many disciplines meet to discuss and make decisions about investigation, treatment, intervention and prosecution of child-abuse cases. They also work together to prevent further victimization of children.
The multidisciplinary team approach brings together under one umbrella all the professionals and agencies needed to offer comprehensive services, including law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy. The types of services provided include child forensic interviews, medical referrals, victim and family advocacy, and case management and tracking. 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 child’s needs comes first.
This center is only the third CAC in the metro Richmond region, others are in Richmond and Henrico. There are only two CACs in Virginia that are government based. The other one is in Arlington, but its CAC is part of social services.
Statistics show the need:
- One in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18 – and 20 percent of children are abused before the age of 8.
- Ninety percent of child victims are abused by family members or those they know and trust.
- Sixty percent of child-sexual-abuse victims never tell anyone.
- One in five children will be sexually solicited while on the internet.
History: CACs are community-based programs designed by professionals and volunteers to meet the unique needs of the community. Communities that have developed CACs experience many benefits, including a reduction in the number of child victim interviews and increased successful prosecution. Studies also indicate that communities with CACs, versus communities using the traditional CPS-Law Enforcement response to child abuse, saves $1,318 per child-abuse case, according to National Children’s Advocacy Center researchers in Huntsville, Alabama. The study also found that traditional investigations cost 45 percent more than CAC investigations.
Traditional approaches to investigating cases of child abuse often prolong children’s trauma, provide little mental health support for victimized children, and lack reliable evidence to prosecute abusers. Historically, child victims of sexual or severe physical abuse often go through multiple interviews and examinations by multiple service providers. Subsequently, children may alter their stories with each interview, which hinders the investigation and prosecution of cases. This is also detrimental to the mental health of the victim. Children continuously relive the trauma of the abuse with each interview and the process leaves the child angry and confused. This can compound the problems associated with abuse such as nightmares, insomnia, aggression and poor academic achievement.
Because the traditional system of managing cases of abuse does not focus on victims, they rarely receive the ongoing mental health support they need to cope and recover. Maltreated children often have social, cognitive and economic difficulties in adulthood and suffer from a variety of physical and mental health problems. To decrease the negative impact of abuse, children need appropriate mental health services.