By Pam Darnall
Kentucky’s network of 15 child advocacy centers (CACs) is among the state’s best-kept secrets. Not because anyone intentionally seeks to hide or withhold information, but rather because of the too often unspoken nature of its work: helping child victims of sexual abuse. Last year, the state’s 15 CACs served more than 6,000 child victims of abuse – primarily sexual abuse, but some physical abuse cases as well – with multidisciplinary team investigations, forensic interviews, specialized medical and mental healthcare, and victim advocacy.
It’s rare to read or hear about any of the centers’ work due to the need to keep private information about sexually abused children, but it’s an unfortunate fact that in many of the cases and situations that appear in headlines and on newscasts about child sexual abuse, CAC staff see and serve the affected children and families. Another fact is that children, be they from high-profile cases or no-profile cases, receive the same quality and level of care.
The intent in every case is to identify, investigate, and prosecute the offender, and to ensure appropriate therapy for the child victim and his or her family. CACs work to rebuild happy, healthy families, with meaningful relationships with both within the family unit and outside of it. A multidisciplinary team manages all of this work, comprised of police, prosecutors, trauma-trained pediatricians, and Child Protective Services, all supported by forensic interviewers and therapists.
With medical, investigative, and therapeutic professionals working together, children who allege abuse don’t have to tell and retell their story. The CACs digitally record the child’s forensic interview, sharing it with police and prosecutors. This significantly reduces stress and trauma, and speeds the time healing can begin.
The CACs save money, too. Research from the National Children’s Alliance shows investigative costs per 1,000 were 41 percent lower in communities served by child advocacy centers, generating as much as $1,000 savings in each case over traditional investigations.
In Louisville, the Kosair Charities® Child Advocacy Center at Family & Children’s Place helped stop abuse and provide treatment to more than 1,300 children last year from Bullitt, Henry, Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer, and Trimble counties, saving the Metro Louisville area nearly $1.3 million—a significant amount in budget-tight times.
In addition to the cost savings, collaborations within child advocacy centers have been shown to increase the likelihood of successful prosecutions of people who abuse children and usually result in charging the suspect with a more significant crime due to the forensic nature of a CAC’s services: The findings stand up in court.
Even if it takes years for a case to go to trial, the jury sees the interview recorded at the time of abuse, bolstering the case.
For a snapshot, last year the Kosair Charities Child Advocacy Center provided 935 forensic interviews and 69 comprehensive medical exams to children who alleged abuse. The center serves children up to age 17, and of the clients last year, the majority – 69 percent – were young girls. The average age for boys and girls served was 11.
Everything at the center is aimed at making the child feel safe and surrounded by caring, compassionate staff. The Kosair Charities CAC, which has been open for just two years, offers best-in-class facilities and services. All the furnishings, art, toys, and tools are trauma-informed, designed to lessen stress on children under duress, including child-sized furniture, bright and colorful artwork, and soothing paint colors.
Family advocates and therapists there provide services not only to abused children, but also to their non-offending family members or caregivers as well, with the hopes to restore family connections, trust, and health. There is no cost for services to families.
Funding for the CACs comes from the state, proceeds from sales of Kentucky’s “I Care About Kids” license plate, and private fundraising.
Child abuse is a difficult and unpleasant subject. Kentucky is fortunate to have such a strong network of child advocacy centers, staffed by very special people, to serve the children and families affected by it.
Pam Darnall is President and CEO of Family & Children’s Place. The agency served more than 6,000 children and family members last year through trauma-informed and impact-evident services. Family & Children’s Place is also an active partner in the Face It® Movement to end child abuse.