A child advocacy center (CAC) is a child-focused environment tied together by community agencies and professionals who work together to provide comprehensive services to abused children and their families. CACs coordinate efforts between law enforcement and Department of Human Services to enhance investigation and intervention, while minimizing the amount of trauma a child experiences. Key components of a child advocacy center include forensic interviewing, medical evaluations, advocacy and support, therapeutic intervention, and case review and tracking. When efforts are combined and coordinated by a CAC, team members can minimize the amount of trauma a child has to relive through the investigation and can put the child’s needs at the forefront.
Child advocacy centers in Iowa serve children and families throughout the state, ensuring that all children receive a consistent, comprehensive investigation and protection from abuse or neglect. For victims and families, CACs provide consistent and prompt follow-up to abuse reports, compassionate support, referrals to professionals in specialized fields, dramatically fewer victim interviews and increased successful prosecution. Based on research conducted by the National Children’s Alliance, the Child Protection Center approach is 36% less expensive and more highly valued by community residents than other approaches to child abuse.
For more information about the impact of CACs and the national prevalence of child abuse, visit the National Children’s Alliance’s website.
A multidisciplinary team is made up of members of law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy, and the child advocacy center. Each of these members works together to make team decisions about investigation, intervention, treatment, and management of child abuse cases. MDTs generally provide forensic interviewing services, specialized medical and mental health evaluation and care, victim advocacy and support, and child-and family-friendly facilities.
Medical Evaluation and Treatment: Medical staff perform complete medical examinations for children referred for sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, and for children entering the foster system in order to best treat the child. Law enforcement and the Department of Human Services can refer a child to the CPC’s for a medical examination.
Forensic Interviews: When requested by law enforcement, the Department of Human Services, or county attorneys, a forensic interviewer conducts a recorded forensic interview with the child. The goal of this interview is to reduce the number of times a child must tell an account of their abuse, reducing the amount of trauma they must relive.
Counseling and/or Referrals: A CAC advocate will work with the child and family and assess their needs, then refer them to the appropriate therapy, support groups, or other resources to best help them.
Case Review and Case Tracking: A team of law enforcement, Department of Human Services, medical professionals, prosecution, mental health providers, and child advocacy center staff regularly review active cases and work to resolve any issues in reporting and investigating the child abuse, as well as any other problems that arise.
Prevention and Community Education: Child advocacy centers also work hard in the community to prevent child abuse and educate local and state leaders on its prevalence in Iowa. Many CACs in Iowa offer trainings and resources in addition to their work with children and families to help create a more comprehensive approach to child abuse in the state of Iowa.
Advocacy Services: An advocate from a CAC will assess the specific needs of the child and their family members and refer them to the appropriate resources, as well as guiding families through understanding the CAC model and process.
Referrals for evaluations come from law enforcement agencies, child protection agencies and medical providers. Child Protection Centers will not accept direct referrals from parents. Concerns of abuse and neglect should be reported to law enforcement and /or child protection in your community. If you suspect child abuse, contact the local law enforcement and the Iowa Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.
For more information, please visit the Iowa Department of Human Services’ website.
Without a child advocacy center, a child who has experienced abuse may end up having to retell their traumatic experience over and over again to doctors, law enforcement, lawyers, therapists, judges, and more. They may be asked questions in a way that makes them feel like they are in trouble, or be asked the wrong questions by a well-meaning adult that could hurt their case against an abuser. Instead, the CAC Model combines the efforts of multiple groups in order to minimize trauma to the child and provide a coordinated response to each case.
There is never a cost to families associated with services they receive at a child protection center. Iowa CACs are funded through state funding and through private donations to the Iowa Chapter of Children’s Advocacy. You can help us respond to child abuse in Iowa by donating to the ICCAC here.