2017-12-07 / Front Page

Child Advocacy Center opens, serves Toombs Judicial Circuit

By JANE ELLYN AARON
news editor

A decade of laying groundwork and championing for a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) has fi­nally come to fruition as the grand opening of the Toombs Judicial Circuit CAC was held last Friday in Thomson. This means that the children of Lincoln, Wilkes, Glas­cock, McDuffie, Taliaferro, and Warren Counties may now reap the support offered through this abuse aid- and prevention-based program.

Under the umbrella of Child Enrichment Inc., a non-profit or­ganization that serves Richmond, Columbia, and Burke Counties, the program sets to “provide and coordinate comprehensive inter­vention, stabilization, advocacy, and prevention in the best interests of abandoned, abused, neglected, and sexually abused children.”

Specifically, CACs are ac­credited nationally, and use a “multi-disciplinary” method of assisting families when there are allegations of child abuse through partnerships with local law en­forcement agencies, DFACS, District Attorney Bill Doupé and his office, along with other protec­tive agencies. The CAC program offers help through forensic in­terviews, victim advocacy, and therapy services.

“Until today the Toombs Judi­cial Circuit didn’t have anywhere to go for services – we did cour­tesy services, however it was not complete services. We really were just doing a forensic interview here and there. We were also hav­ing to drive really far to receive the services,” CAC Director Kari Viola-Brooke said.

The director included that ser­vices through CAC are likewise free, as the organization operates on grant monies from the Crimi­nal Justice Coordinating Council, private donations, and through fundraisers.

CAC began in Huntsville, Ala­bama in 1980, after a prosecutor advocated that a collaborative team of experts could ultimately assist children by getting the facts straight quickly, and effectively at one location, without having them repeat their trauma repeatedly to different officials in different places, and at different times.

Only six years later did the CAC become established in Au­gusta, making it the first center in Georgia.

The director further explained the process and protocol that CAC adheres to, narrating that once a child is referred to the pro­gram through law enforcement or DFACS, a series of interviews is conducted with the child, parents or guardians, therapists, and other officials.

Offenders and suspected of­fenders are not permitted within the facility for the well-being of the child.

Private interviews with the chil­dren are also conducted.

“We follow a protocol. All of our interviewers are trained in forensic interviewing, and what we do is build a rapport with the children, get to know them, talk to them about things they like to do and stuff like that. We also do a narrative practice – we get them used to talking in a way that we need them to talk in a forensic interview,” Brooke said.

“We start with a neutral non- threatening topic, and then we transition into the topic of concern, so we’ll ask “Do you know why you’re here today?’ and sometimes kids do and they’ll just start talk­ing about what happened. If they don’t we’ll ask them if they’ve had any problems anywhere, if they’ve had to talk to anyone from law enforcement or DFACS, we may label body parts and talk about ‘okay’ and ‘not okay’ touches, things like that,” the director continued.

Taking great care, those with CAC also examine every “alterna­tive hypothesis” possible, Brooke said, meaning that while a child might have been recommended to them for physical abuse, those with the center also try to uncover other forms of maltreatment.

“We keep it really open,” Brooke said.

All conversations are recorded and monitored by law enforce­ment in a separate room for record keeping and communication pur­poses – officers and interviewers and therapists with CAC can then thoroughly examine the situation, and bring about any further ques­tioning that needs to take place.

“We’re also trained in child de­velopment,” Brooke said, noting that they provide an education in this area to the officers involved as well. “We make sure our inter­views are done in a developmen­tally appropriate way.”

Therapists are also on-hand at CAC in order to explain the dynamics of abuse to the parents, what happens after the interviews, and answers further questions.

“When they leave for the day they have counseling referrals or medical referrals if they need it, and they have a follow-up form that has everybody’s information on it,” Brooke said. “Our family advocate calls within a week and just checks in to say ‘Hey, do you have any questions? How are you guys doing? We’re going to schedule you for an intake or a therapy,’ stuff like that. We also keep following up with the fam­ily as we get updates from law enforcement or DFACS until we get a final disposition.”

The director additionally ex­plained that a special case multi- disciplinary team has been assem­bled, and is made up of the GBI, the DA’s office, DFACS, local law enforcement, and University Health, which is responsible for all medical exams.

“What we do is come together every month, and we staff every case that’s come through the CAC that past month, and any cases that are still open, and what we’ll do is we get updates on what the status is of that case, and we keep it on there until there’s a final disposi­tion,” Brooke said.

Director Brooke and the CAC staff, those with the DA’s office, and many others within the lo­cal communities of the Toombs Circuit have expressed great en­thusiasm for this project, which ultimately puts child safety and rehabilitation at the forefront of the operation.

Even more-so is the underlining mission advocating for children to have a voice, to be heard, and to know that there is hope for their future.

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