What is a Child Advocacy Center?
Based on a nationally recognized model, New Hampshire’s Child Advocacy Centers are community partnerships dedicated to pursuing the truth in child abuse cases and coordinating social services for child victims of crime. By bringing together our State’s law enforcement, county attorneys, child protective services, victim advocacy agencies and health professionals, New Hampshire’s Child Advocacy Centers provide safe, child friendly locations for interviewing child victims. Children are interviewed by a forensic interviewer. The forensic interviewer has special training and is experienced in talking with children. The interviewer’s goal is to make your child as comfortable as possible gathering information. Staff at the CAC also include Family Support Specialists who support caregivers, providing information, resources and referrals.
Prior to the development of the CAC model, a child disclosing abuse would be subjected to numerous interviews. The social service and the criminal justice systems, at that time, were not working together in an effective manner which added to children’s emotional distress, and created a segmented, repetitious, and often frightening experience for the child victims. Compounding this problem was the lack of communication between the professional disciplines involved. This resulted in child sex offenders not being held accountable for their crimes, leaving children and our community at serious risk.
The Granite State Children’s Alliance seeks to break the cycle of abuse not only by seeking justice for child victims, but also by putting families and child victims on a sustainable path to healing.
A Team Approach
The team approach used at Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) has been deemed best practice in the investigation of child abuse cases. This approach ensures all aspects of the case are examined and that efforts are coordinated between professionals, our multi-disciplinary team (MDT).
The CAC/MDT Model
What are Forensic Interviewers?
Forensic interviews are neutral third party fact-finding interviews to find out what happened. Forensic interviewers at New Hampshire’s Child Advocacy Centers are trained in a nationally recognized model of forensic interviewing developed by the National Children’s Advocacy Center. Forensic interviews are an important step in child abuse investigations. They produce evidence that can be used in court if an investigation leads to criminal prosecution. Properly conducted forensic interviews are effective because they’re objective, non-leading, and carefully documented.
Multi-disciplinary professionals who participate on the Child Advocacy Center team include:
- County Attorney/Prosecutors – The county prosecutor leads the team and has the final decision as to whether charges will be filed. Prosecution may not happen in every case.
- Law Enforcement – Police Departments in New Hampshire assign investigators to their local Child Advocacy Center team. They interview children, non-offending parents, suspects and other witnesses and gather evidence from the scene of the alleged event.
- Child Protective Services – The role of the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is to help protect children. The DCYF social workers conduct interviews with family members and develop safety plans. They may refer children and families to counseling or other support services within the community.
- Medical Providers – Physicians assigned to a Child Advocacy Center team have years of experience examining children for possible abuse. The exam may not prove if the child has been abused or not. Eighty percent of all children who have been abused have normal exams.
- Crisis Center Advocates – A crisis center advocate is available to provide support to non-offending parents/caregivers who have come with the child to the interview. The crisis center advocate is not part of the investigative team. They are a resource for support, referrals and information.
- Victim/Witness Advocates – Child Advocacy Centers work closely with the victim/witness programs at each County Attorney’s Office. The victim/witness advocate attends the interview, tracks cases as they come in for prosecution, works with the family to prepare for a criminal case in court as well as provide other support services.
The Interview ProcessThe team approach at Child Advocacy Centers is best practice in the investigation of child abuse cases. This approach ensures all aspects of the case are examined and that efforts are coordinated between professionals.
- Children who are ages 3 to 17 may be interviewed in a Child Advocacy Center when there is alleged sexual abuse, felony level physical abuse or they have witnessed a violent crime such as domestic violence, homicide or suicide.
- Referrals are made to the Child Advocacy Center by law enforcement or the Division for Children Youth and Families (DCYF). Alleged offenders are not allowed on the premises of any Child Advocacy Center.
- Children are interviewed by a forensic interviewer. The forensic interviewer has special training and is experienced in talking with children. The interviewer’s goal is to make your child as comfortable as possible while gathering the necessary information for an investigation. The interviewer moves at a pace that is comfortable for your child and never forces a child to talk.
- Members of the Multidisciplinary team observe the interview from another room. Parent/caregivers are not able to view the interview.