“A CAC is a place…and a process.”

A Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child-friendly place where a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of professionals—including child welfare caseworkers, police, prosecutors, medical, and mental health professionals—work together with CAC staff to respond to allegations of child sexual and physical abuse.

Image credit: National Children’s Alliance

The purpose of a CAC is to provide a child-focused response to abuse cases. There are many agencies that are involved in child abuse allegations, and a collaborative approach ensures the child is served in a manner that minimizes additional trauma that can be caused by an investigation. Rather than taking a child from agency to agency for multiple interviews in various settings, a CAC brings the process to the child. Through the multidisciplinary team, CACs ensure that children receive all the services they may need, both on site and by referral.

The heart of the CAC model is teamwork—bringing together professionals involved in a case right from the beginning.

CACs intervene to stop abuse when it happens. This is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers CACs to be Level 1 emergency responders. The priority of any CAC is the immediate safety of children, as well as their ongoing health and well-being. No matter if they are urban or rural, big or small, all CACs follow national standards that ensure a timely, evidence-based, and trauma-informed response that puts the child’s needs first. CACs are accredited through the National Children’s Alliance.

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Ida B. Wells

The CAC Difference—bringing healing to a hard process.

Almost all visits to a CAC involve a forensic interview—a fact-finding conversation that gives a child the opportunity to disclose abuse if it has occurred. It’s very important that the forensic interview takes place in the child-friendly environment of a CAC, with a trained interviewer who gathers evidence in a developmentally appropriate manner, without using leading questions.

While the interview takes place, the police investigators and child protective services caseworkers watch the conversation with the child via video feed from another room. This approach ensures that the child feels safe and comfortable, allows multiple agencies to access the same potential evidence, and eliminates the trauma of repeated interviews. The CAC model provides an efficient, effective—and most importantly, a child-focused—approach to the interview process.

The results of the interview determine what happens next in an investigation. Based on the findings, the multidisciplinary team makes decisions together about next steps and how best to support the child. After the forensic interview, the CAC will provide or make referrals for all of the following services:

  • Medical evaluation
  • Ongoing victim advocacy support
  • Referral for trauma-focused therapy or other mental health services
  • Help making follow-up appointments or finding transportation
  • Court preparation and support for cases that go to trial

Seen and heard: From trauma to hope.

In 2019 our CACs served a total of 16,722 children across Pennsylvania. We conducted 12,597 forensic interviews, completed 6,195 age-appropriate medical exams, and made sure 8,262 children were linked with counseling services. For each child and caregiver served at a CAC, our Victim Advocates provided individualized support—including referrals, court preparation and accompaniment, and ongoing assistance as needed.

Thanks to CACs in Pennsylvania, 16,722 children were seen and heard in a child-friendly and collaborative environment. Protected from ongoing harm and guided toward long-term healing, each of those children was given the chance to grow into their full potential, without the burden of lasting trauma.

“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”

Dr. Robert Block

How we support Pennsylvania’s local CACs.

We believe deeply in the extraordinary work of CACs across our state. To help them in the fight to end child abuse and inspire hope for a child’s best tomorrow, we support CACs with the resources they need, including:

Public Awareness

To help communicate the important work that CACs are doing across the state.

Resources and Support

To ensure CACs have the capacity to serve all children in their communities who need them.

Training Opportunities

Best-practice responses for collaborating in child abuse investigations.

Legislative Advocacy

So that policy makers know the changes we need to get the most help possible to our CACs and the children they serve.

Media Outreach

To promote the work of CACs and to ensure that our citizens know the signs of abuse as well as how to make a report if they suspect that a child is being or has been abused.

Technical Assistance

To help create CACs in counties where none exist, and to support existing programs to comply with national standards to maintain their accreditation.

Leadership Development

Via regular opportunities for CAC directors to share information and offer mutual support.

National Children’s Alliance Membership and Accreditation

NCA is the national membership association and accrediting body for a network of 900 (and counting!) CACs across the country. They provide support, advocacy, quality assurance, and national leadership for all member CACs.

We advocate for change on a national level.

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