A Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a community-based, child-focused facility where children alleged to be victims of abuse or neglect are interviewed and receive medical exams, therapy, and other critical services in a non-threatening and child friendly environment. A CAC brings together representatives from many disciplines to meet and discuss and make decisions about investigations, treatment and prosecution of child abuse cases. The primary goal of a CAC is to reduce the additional trauma experienced by child victims, improve prosecutions and provide for more prompt and thorough provision of necessary services to the child victim and the child’s family. CACs reduce the duplication of services through their inter-agency collaboration and coordination.
The services provided by a Children’s Advocacy Center include, but are not limited to, the following services:
In 1985, Congressman Robert E. “Bud” Cramer (AL), who was then a District Attorney, organized an effort to create a better system to help abused children. He was frustrated as a prosecutor, because he was having difficulty prosecuting child abuse cases and getting guilty verdicts or pleas for offenders of crimes against children. He noticed the social service and the criminal justice systems were not working together in an effective manner and this created the common problem of adding to children’s emotional distress, and created a segmented, repetitious, and often frightening experience for the child victims. He pulled together law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective service, medical and mental health workers into one coordinated team that would serve child victims of crime in a respectful way. Thirty years ago, this was a revolutionary idea.
In 2006, researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire released findings from the five-year multi-site national evaluation of the CAC model. Data from over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse handled by communities with and without a CAC were collected and subject to comparison analysis. Some highlights of the findings include:
Cross, T.P., Jones, L.M., Walsh, W.A., Simone, M., Kolko, D.J., Szczepanski, J., Lippert, T., Davison, K., Cryns, A., Sosnowski, P., Shadoin, A., and Magnuson, S. (2008), Evaluating children’s advocacy centers’ response to child sexual abuse. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 1-12.
In 2005, the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama conducted a national cost-benefit analysis of the Children’s Advocacy Center model showing that Children’s Advocacy Centers save approximately $1,000 per case in services to children and families during the course of a child abuse investigation. On a per-case basis, traditional investigations were 36% more expensive than a CAC investigation. The cost of a Children’s Advocacy Center investigation averaged $2,902 compared to $3,949 for a traditional abuse investigation.
For more information, please read the Executive Summary of Findings from the NCAC Cost-Benefit Analysis of Community Responses to Child Maltreatment. To read the full study, please click here.