The Early Years
The Board of Directors for Children in Crisis first met in 1997 to develop resources and community contacts necessary to achieve their goals. Their mission was to provide for the immediate care and protection of abused, neglected and at-risk children and adolescents by establishing a comprehensive evaluation and treatment center, to work to increase the number and quality of foster care homes, and to establish a pilot program with two specially designated Emergency Foster Care Homes.
Throughout much of 1997, the Board of Directors of Children in Crisis met with other child advocacy centers to learn more about the children's advocacy model. The first executive director was hired in a part time role, and we applied for and were granted Associate Membership status with the National Children's Alliance, the accrediting organization for Children's Advocacy Centers. In December 2003, Dorchester Children's Center opened its doors for the first time on a part-time basis.
Center Experiences Rapid Growth
Dorchester Children's Center is the only Children's Advocacy Center in Dorchester County. The purpose of a Children's Advocacy Center is to provide a comprehensive, culturally competent, multidisciplinary team response to allegations of child abuse in a dedicated, child-friendly setting. This type of setting and the multidisciplinary team model are essential to the accomplishment of the mission of Children's Advocacy Centers. At our center, children only have to tell their story of abuse once, rather than to each professional involved with their case, which greatly reduces additional trauma to the child. The center actively provides support services for children in foster care as well.
It is amazing how rapidly we have grown since opening our doors in December 2003. In 2005, our first full year of full-time operation, we provided services for 441 new cases of child abuse; which indicates how badly we were needed in Dorchester County. In 2006, our numbers increased 25 percent as we provided services, including forensic interviews, forensic medical examinations, and child and family therapy sessions, for 547 new cases of child abuse and neglect! Sadly, our numbers have increased again and in 2007, we served over 752 new cases of abuse, a 38 percent increase over 2006. In 2008, we experienced yet another increase resulting in service for 848 children.
In November 2007, we were delighted to receive full National Accreditation from the National Children's Alliance, the national membership and accrediting organization for the more than 600 Children's Advocacy Centers located throughout the United States. To receive national accreditation, a Child Advocacy Center must meet 10 standards, set by the National Children's Alliance, and as defined below:
- Child-Appropriate/Child-Friendly Facility: A Children's Advocacy Center provides a comfortable, private, child-friendly setting that is both physically and psychologically safe for clients.
- Multidisciplinary Team (MDT): A multidisciplinary team for response to child abuse allegations includes representation from the following: law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health and medical provisions, victim advocacy, and Children's Advocacy Center.
- Organizational Capacity: A designated legal entity responsible for program and fiscal operations has been established and implements basic sound administrative practices.
- Cultural Competency and Diversity: The Children's Advocacy Center promotes policies, practices and procedures that are culturally competent. Cultural competency is defined as the capacity to function in more than one culture, requiring the ability to appreciate, understand and interact with members of diverse populations within the local community.
- Forensic Interviews: Forensic interviews are conducted in a manner which is of a neutral, fact finding nature, and coordinated to avoid duplicative interviewing.
- Medical Evaluation: Specialized medical evaluation and treatment are to be made available to Children's Advocacy Center clients as part of the team response, either at the Children's Advocacy Center or through coordination and referral with other specialized medical providers.
- Therapeutic Intervention: Specialized mental health services are to be made available as part of the team response, either at the CAC or through coordination and referral with other appropriate treatment providers.
- Victim Support/Advocacy: Victim support and advocacy are to be made available as part of the team response, either at the Children's Advocacy Center or through coordination with other providers, throughout the investigation and subsequent legal proceedings.
- Case Review: Team discussion and information sharing regarding the investigation, case status and services needed by the child and family are to occur on a routine basis.
- Case Tracking: Children's Advocacy Centers must develop and implement a system for monitoring case progress and tracking case outcomes for team components.
Donor Support Made It All Possible
The members of the Board of Directors and Children In Crisis staff are deeply grateful to our loyal donors, who have made every step of our growth possible.
The Child Advocacy Center Model
The first Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was established in Huntsville, Alabama two decades ago and it is now considered the model for child abuse evaluation, treatment, and agency coordination. These centers were developed in response to what was too often a fragmented and inefficient approach to investigating child abuse claims. Instead of subjecting child victims to repeated interviews at various agencies and health care offices, they enabled the people from these agencies to coordinate investigations, conduct joint interviews, and offer comprehensive medical exams and other services in a child-friendly atmosphere that reduces the risk of re-traumatization to the victim.
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NCCANI) has documented studies that show child abuse is a predictor of future alcohol and drug abuse and social maladjustment; which can lead to low academic achievement, teen pregnancy, violent crime, domestic abuse, and auto accidents. Children who are abused and neglected are also at higher risk for failing school, becoming juvenile offenders, and continuing the cycle of abuse with their own children. These consequences cost society by expanding the need for mental health and substance abuse programs, police and court interventions, correctional facilities, public assistance programs, and by causing losses in productivity. Calculation of the total financial cost of child maltreatment must account for both the direct and the indirect costs of its long-term consequences. The NCCANI has also shown that investment in prevention and treatment services proves to be cost effective. (http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/prevenres/pays.cfm)
The Child Advocacy Center model was studied in 1996 by the Georgetown University Public Policy Program, and it was shown that by coordination of services Children's Advocacy Centers could produce one-year cost savings of $1144 per case treated compared to the traditional fragmented evaluation and treatment methods. Simple math shows us that in 2008 alone, the very presence of a child advocacy center has saved Dorchester county over 1 million dollars.