We all share in the responsibility of caring for our smallest, most vulnerable community members—our children. Children’s Advocacy Center of Center County, Mount Nittany Health (CAC) provides a safe, comfortable space – with a dedicated, compassionate multi-disciplinary team approach – for identification, prevention, investigation and treatment of child abuse.
“The Children’s Advocacy Center shines a light on a too often silent tragedy, providing a trusted place for healing and plays a pivotal role in central Pennsylvania’s protection of our children. The center coordinates investigative and intervention services to meet the needs of each child. The focus is always on the child’s wellbeing,” shares Jack Infield, chair, Board of Directors.
To fully appreciate the necessity of the Children’s Advocacy Center, one must first understand what a child’s experience would be like without it. When recalling their abuse, a child may have to repeat the worst story of his or her life over and over again to police officers, lawyers, investigators, doctors, therapists, judges and others. A well-meaning, trusted adult may ask questions that cause further trauma to the child or even hurts the case against the abuser. The Children’s Advocacy Center orchestrates a research-based, yet compassionate response to the report in the least detrimental and most respectable possible way for the child.
The entire CAC system is designed so that the reporting and investigative processes happen during one visit, in a child-centric, comforting environment. All involved parties looking out for the welfare of the child come to the child. Referrals are received from child protective services or law enforcement if there is concern that a child is an alleged victim or witness of a crime.
The child and non-offending caregiver are provided with a tour of the space and expectations for the visit. This helps demystify the process so that the child and family feel more comfortable and safe.
Next, a forensic interviewer meets with the child in the waiting room and brings him or her to the specially furnished child-friendly interview room. The forensic interview is really the core of the center. A specially trained individual asks questions in a way that helps the child feel heard and validated, and that is also legally sound. The interviewer keeps a neutral stance and works to find out what happened. The interview is both audio and video recorded so that law enforcement and other stakeholders can access it without having to put the child through the trauma of reliving their experience over and over again. One of a team of specially trained Mount Nittany Physician Group pediatricians then completes a non-invasive medical exam. These physicians are another key piece of the approach and set the center apart from others, many of whom do not have their own medical staff.
“Here at the CAC we strive to provide a comfortable environment for the child to safely share their story and begin the healing process. Part of that effort includes being the central point for our investigative team members from various agencies within the counties we serve (and beyond),” shares Meredith Thompson, MS, executive director, Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County. “This multi-disciplinary team—which can include law enforcement, children and youth services, mental health services, victim advocates and the District Attorney’s Office—convene to determine the next steps to meet the needs of the child and the investigation. Afterward, they review the recommendations with the family and support them through treatment and the investigation.”
The team works together to make each child feel safe and secure, and to ensure that each child is given the opportunity to share their account of abuse, neglect or other crimes they may have been victim or witness to. A visit to the Children’s Advocacy Center is the beginning of their journey to healing.
Mount Nittany Health, including the Children’s Advocacy Center, is a non-profit organization. All services are offered to victims and their families at no charge. This is simply the right thing to do. This essential resource is made possible through the generous support of community members and organizations.
“The Children’s Advocacy Center provides a safe, private place for children across the region to access healing and justice from a physical and emotional tragedy. It takes all of us to support this mission,” says Rachel Schwab, MD, medical director for the center and pediatrician, Mount Nittany Physician Group. “Our children are worth it.”
For more information about the Children’s Advocacy Center, please visit https://www.mountnittany.org/childadvocacycenter.
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