The Children’s Advocacy of Centre County, Mount Nittany Health, has provided a valuable a service to children and families in our area for the past three years, yet many people not familiar with the center’s model may wonder exactly how it operates.
The primary goal of any Children’s Advocacy Center is to coordinate investigative and intervention services by bringing together representatives from multiple disciplines, working collaboratively on behalf of children who have experienced or witnessed abuse, neglect or other serious crimes.
Referrals to the Children’s Advocacy Center are typically made by an investigative entity such as law enforcement or child protective services. The Children’s Advocacy Center is a child-focused and child-friendly facility, welcoming the child to feel safe and secure during an emotional and confusing time.
In areas where a Children’s Advocacy Center format is not present, children may end up telling their stories many times over. In instances such as this, the child is likely to be retraumatized and potentially recant the allegations. Additionally, the questions asked may inadvertently lead the child to omit pertinent information.
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The Children’s Advocacy Center model provides a child-centered approach, in which all members of the multidisciplinary investigative team come to the child at the Children’s Advocacy Center. The team observes the child’s forensic interview from an adjacent room while a highly trained and specialized child forensic interviewer works with the child.
Members of the MDIT include, but are not limited to, law enforcement, child protective services, district attorneys, medical examiners, mental health professionals and victim advocates. Each entity has its own specified role in the investigation and intervention of child abuse.
Victim advocates are a crucial member of the team. Families may become overwhelmed during the investigative and healing process. A victim advocate is helpful in alleviating stress, providing emotional support, and assisting the family with the healing and prosecutorial process.
In a typical Children’s Advocacy Center, there can be multiple rooms established and utilized to aid in the investigative process as well as assist in easing the child. These rooms may include:
▪ A forensic medical examination room, where a forensically trained physician completes a medical exam.
▪ A forensic interview room, where interviews with the child are conducted in a neutral and child appropriate manner, by a nationally trained forensic interviewer.
▪ An observation room, utilized by the investigative team to observe the interview and provide feedback to the forensic interviewer.
It is also not uncommon for a Children’s Advocacy Center to partner with a health care facility or physician group. The Centre County center works closely with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics. If a center does not employ its own physician medical examiner, establishing a relationship with a physician group or hospital allows the center to provide health services to the child without requiring additional travel.
At the center of everything, a Children’s Advocacy Center provides help, healing and support for children.
Kristina Taylor-Porter is the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County, Mount Nittany Health.