Traumatized children don’t need more trauma.
1986 was an important year for both child abuse victims and those who worked with them: it was the year the first Children’s Advocacy Centers started. Until then, children were often re- traumatized by the very agencies, people, and processes intended to help them.
Before the CAC movement, it was common practice for professionals from child protective services, law enforcement, legal, and medical systems to interview a victim separately in police stations, hospitals, and other adult environments. These interviews were set up to meet the diverse and sometimes conflicting requirements of the agencies involved. As a result, it meant that a child had to recount what happened to them over and over again.
The child’s needs and safety were not the focus of the response, and the proliferation of interviews across agencies often complicated the investigation and court processes. Something needed to change.
A better way is born: the CAC movement
Recognizing the need to better serve victims, local communities across the U.S. began in the mid-1980s to introduce a new model for responding to abuse that would prioritize the needs of the child. Committed to reducing the trauma that children experienced, the first multidisciplinary teams of professionals began to offer a collaborative response that transformed the investigative process into a whole new child-focused approach.
With this visionary leadership, the first Children’s Advocacy Centers were established in 1986.
Something healing out of something horrific
In Pennsylvania, our first CACs came into being in the early 1990s and expanded across the state for the next two decades at a moderate pace.
Then in 2011, a high-profile case generated widespread public awareness of child abuse, followed by greater public demands for the necessary action to prevent it.
This public outrage successfully led to additional state funding for our CACs, which developed over the next decade into a robust network of more than 40 locations statewide—each unique and tailored to reflect its community involvement and needs while adhering to national standards for CACs.
The CAC movement in Pennsylvania has made tremendous gains over the last 30 years; however, there are still several communities with limited or no CAC access for their children.
In more rural areas, travel time to the nearest CAC may pose a hardship. Even if a family is able to make the drive, there can be wait lists for medical exams or therapy due to shortages in qualified medical or mental health practitioners. In urban areas, existing CACs may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases reported to them on any given day. In back-logged court systems, some families must wait for years before a case is resolved.
While we improve access to CAC services, we must also work to educate all communities in Pennsylvania about how to identify and report abuse.
Together, we must continue to strengthen our statewide network so that all children who need the resources of a CAC have easy access to one and that all CACs have the capacity to respond quickly and effectively to any and every child who needs them, regardless of location.