By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
I often contemplate late at night, when I think of the children that come through the center, and worry if their needs are getting met or if they are safe or what could we do to make it better. Does the CAC matter? Does it matter what services we provide? Who does it matter to? Why does it matter?
Please for minute close your eyes and take an imaginary journey with me.
I will forewarn you it is not for the faint of heart and it could trigger emotions from the past. Be safe as you take this journey and, if it becomes too much to take, please take care of yourself.
Imagine a six year-old little girl.
She is happiest at school. She is safest there as well. She loves to spend recess jumping rope, playing wall ball or swinging high in the air. She is not always clean. She is not always accepted by her teacher or her classmates. She is sometimes disruptive in class and always hungry and sleepy.
She finds refuge with a school counselor and begins to trust her. She shares with her a secret. A secret so horrible that her counselor begins to get teary eyed, however assures the little girl that she will get her the help that she needs.
The school counselor calls a Social Worker and asks for help for her.
Several things have just been triggered.
A criminal and child protection investigation has been started. At six, she will be interviewed by a police officer or an interviewer. The choice becomes where this interview will happen and how many people will interview her. At six, she will need a medical evaluation and she will need therapy. Where will she get these services?
There is some urgency to gathering the information as the Case Worker needs to secure her safety. She cries as she is led from the school to a car waiting outside. Will she be able to see her Mom? Will she be mad?
There are choices to be made and those choices matter.
They matter to that six year-old little girl in the first grade. They matter to her Mom. They matter to the Police Officer. They matter to the Case Worker. They matter to the Medical Provider. They matter to the Therapist.
The CAC matters.
The CAC does not erase what happened to that six year-old. It only helps to wrap a safety net around her. The CAC does not make it go away. It paves a way to process what happened and to make that a part of her history, but not of her future.
The CAC provides a holistic approach to child abuse investigations and interventions.
All under one roof, so to speak, you can have a forensic interview, a medical evaluation, a therapy assessment and find a support person to help you find a way through the system.
These services start with an interview and hopefully end with a prosecution. Everyone involved is specially trained to deal with child victims. The Deputy District Attorney has a full picture of who was involved in what and there is a system in place to share information to insure that the child is receiving the best services possible.
Or the old way can be chosen:
The six-year old girl will be interviewed by a police officer, then a social worker, then a medical provider, then therapist, then a Deputy District Attorney. Each of these interviews can take place in a separate building with different addresses. Somewhere along the way, someone will call the mom to inform her that her daughter is at the Police Station being interviewed. The interview may take place in the same interview room that the suspect might be interviewed in later. Then after all of this takes place, the Mom will be instructed to take her child to the emergency room at a local hospital and there she can wait for her child to be examined. No one will tell her the results of those exams right then. They will be passed to an officer who will then pass that information on to the Mom. There will, later, be a referral to a therapist made and at some point the child will be seen for an assessment. After the assessment, the child may be assigned to a therapist that might be the same as the one who did the assessment or it might be someone different. Eventually, if the information seems right and credible, the case may be presented for charges. The child may have to testify at Grand Jury and then again in a trial. They will meet a couple of new people…the Deputy District Attorney prosecuting the case and an advocate that will help notify the child and the Mom of their legal rights as a “victim” of a crime.
No one is sharing information with each other, so no one has a full picture of what is going on and who is involved.
The Mom may even get conflicting explanations of what will happen next. There is no “hand off” for lack of a better description of the case from the investigative process into the prosecution process. There is no one checking in with the family in the meantime to see if the child is feeling safe. The six year-old may even fall through the cracks of the system for a while — until she is rediscovered at a later point in time.
The CAC matters.
The multi-disciplinary team matters.
The choices matter.
The six year-old matters.