Do you know what a child advocacy center is? Usually referred to as a “CAC?”
Taylor Shultz, Director of Awareness and Development at the Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center, provided this guest post.
What is a Child Advocacy Center (CAC)?
The idea of a child advocacy center–aka CAC–was created to address the distressing and often traumatic scenario of a child having to repeatedly disclose abuse to multiple adult strangers.
“Disclosing is when a survivor informs a trusted family member, friend, or the authorities that abuse took place.”
CACs provide a safe and welcoming environment where a trained professional interviews alleged child victims of abuse one time only. During that process, members of the multidisciplinary team observe the forensic interview from outside the room.
CACs then work collaboratively with law enforcement, child protection workers, prosecutors, mental health professionals, medical professionals, and victim advocates to improve the child’s circumstance.
In addition to forensic interviews, CACs often provide other services to help the child and their family with the healing process.
According to the National Children’s Alliance, child advocacy centers (CACs) provide a coordinated, evidence-based response to children experiencing abuse in all 50 states.
Where is your local CAC?
West Virginia has 21 CACs that cover 46 counties. If you reside in Monongalia County, the Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center (MCCAC) is your CAC.
MCCAC operates four programs to best serve children and families in the community:
- Child Advocacy Center (CAC) Program
- Community Education (CE) Program
- Preventative Care (PC) Program
- Drug Endangered Children (DEC) Program
Note: Children and families have no out-of-pocket expenses for participating in these programs.
The main program that MCCAC runs is the CAC Program. This program consists of three main resiliency-building services:
- forensic interviews
- family advocacy
Some or all of these services are offered by CACs throughout the country. What do these processes entail?
Forensic interviews are provided to children who may have experienced abuse or who have witnessed a crime or other violent acts. The primary purpose of a forensic interview is to help ensure the safety of the child as well as other children in the community.
Forensic interviews are provided in a safe and child-friendly environment. These interviews are remotely observed by representatives of the agencies involved in the investigation. The MCCAC currently has four full-time forensic interviewers on staff.
Not all CACs provide therapy, but MCCAC does! They currently have four part-time therapists on staff who provide trauma-focused and research-based therapy at the center, as well as at schools in the area, to help children heal from their trauma.
Family advocacy services are provided to clients and their families who have gone through the forensic interview process, as well as individuals who are in therapy at MCCAC.
These services can be anything from helping the family find resources in the community to providing support to the family during court appearances.
At MCCAC, the four Forensic Interviewers also serve as Family Advocates.
Are CACs effective?
MCCAC’s 2023 was a busy year. Results from our resiliency-building services show the incredible impact our team has had on the children in our community. The numbers below represent the number of resiliency-building services MCCAC provided in 2023:
- Forensic interviews: 246 – over double the number of forensic interviews conducted in 2022.
- Family Advocacy Services: 5,807
- Therapy Sessions: 1,195
What can you do to help the CAC in your community?
Support their upcoming events!
If you live in or near Monongalia County, West Virginia, here’s what the MCCAC has in store this spring.
April 14th – Child Abuse Prevention Community Event for Adults (details to come–you may see this woman behind the podium: )
May 17th – Girls’ Night Out 2024: Travel to the Tropics (ticketed fundraiser)
Donate– Impressed with what MCCAC does? Please consider making a donation here.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, what should you do?
According to Stacy Deel, Chief Operations Officer at WVCAN, The West Virginia Child Advocacy Network: ““If anyone suspects a child under the age of 18 is being abused or neglected, or is at risk for abuse or neglect, they should make a report to DHHR’s Centralized Intake by calling 1-800-352-6513 and their local law enforcement agency. Once a referral is made through Child Protective Services and/or law enforcement, the Child Advocacy Center warmly welcomes the child and family to begin their path to healing.”
What about your community? Is there a CAC where you live?
*The featured image is identified as: “West Virginia Legislature, photo by Will Price.”