This is a bit long, but grab a cup of coffee and give it a read. It's worth your time.
Necessity is the mother of invention. This English proverb is perhaps the best way to explain the What and the Why of the Children’s Legacy Center. At the end of the day, there is no greater need in Shasta County then ensuring a traumatized child is provided with the highest level of support and care. This will not only prevent them from being re-traumatized by the lengthy and often repetitive process of reporting abuse, but will allow a traumatized child to truly heal, to reveal the desires of their heart, and to become who they were born to be.
The model for a Children’s Advocacy Center is the National Children’s Advocacy Center, which was established in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1985. There are now more than 900 CAC’s operating in 25 nations, based on the success of this model. The groundbreaking mindset of unity and collaboration among government and non-government agencies that originated in Huntsville has paved the way for countless others to follow in their footsteps. Children’s Advocacy Centers have proven time and time again that they are cost effective, increase the rate of prosecutions, and have a positive impact on the long-term success of the child.
Currently, the legal process requires children who have been abused to tell their story multiple times to many different people. For example, a child may disclose abuse to their friend, who tells a teacher, who then brings in the school guidance counselor. From here, Child Protective Services and/or Law Enforcement will be notified and will begin their investigations. Next, the District Attorney becomes involved. The child will need to repeat their story of abuse at each of these encounters. This isn’t even factoring in the potential need for medical exams or the recounting their story in the courtroom when a case is brought to trial. While all of these encounters are integral for ensuring the safety of the child, the beginning of the healing process, and the pursuit of justice, the process can be overwhelming and stressful for an already traumatized child.
There was a woman who was abused as a 13-year-old child by a celebrity and whose experience, therefore, was very public. In an interview, she said, “I would have rather re-lived the abuse then had to re-live the process afterwards.”
This is the need. Now, for the solution.
The Children’s Legacy Center is Shasta County’s model of a Children’s Advocacy Center. It has been created using the following two guidelines:
First, we assessed what our greatest needs are here in Shasta County in regards to abused children.
Second, our Founding Committee researched multiple models across the United States to determine what would be most effective in Shasta County.
About 1,000 questions and answers later, the picture of the Children’s Legacy Center was painted.
Any child in Shasta County who is sexually or physically abused, witnesses a physical or violent crime, or is severely neglected will come to the Children’s Legacy Center to receive their forensic interview, non-acute medical exam, advocacy support, and therapy services.
What is a Forensic Interview? I’m so glad you asked…
The very official definition is as follows: A forensic interview is a structured conversation with a child intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event(s) that the child may have experienced or witnessed.
The purposes of a forensic interview are:
To obtain information from a child that may be helpful in a criminal investigation.
To assess the safety of the child’s living arrangements.
To obtain information that will either corroborate or refute allegations or suspicions of abuse and neglect.
To assess the need for medical treatment and psychological care.
The forensic interview is the tip of the spear in the efficacy of the Children’s Advocacy Center model.
The children and non-offending family members who come through the doors of the Children’s Legacy Center will be welcomed with a warm, safe, and playful environment. They will be greeted by one of our advocates who add to the inviting feel of our Center. The advocate will give the child and family a small tour of our facility and guide them through a photo-book that will describe every step of the process, in order to eliminate as much fear of the unknown as possible. Our law enforcement officers will undoubtedly have shiny badge stickers to give to each child, while our physician will let them fix an ouchie on their new stuffed animal.
The child will then be introduced to the forensic interviewer and shown into the specially designed child forensic interview room. In the room, there will be discreetly placed cameras to record and capture the interview. The forensic interviewer will have a listening device in his/her ear to communicate with colleagues. Now the interview can begin.
Across the hall is a conference table with a large TV screen and a microphone. Around the table is the “Justice League” for these children. There will be someone present from each of the following agencies:
District Attorney’s Office
Child Protective Services (Under HHSA)
Law Enforcement (will change based on who has jurisdiction)
A Physician or Nurse Practitioner
A Child/Family Advocate, when needed
Each of these individuals all carry a different perspective, will need different information, and therefore, will ask different questions. Having all of them present at the conference table allows them to feed any additional questions to the forensic interviewer and eliminates the re-traumatization of the child and family having to tell their story over and over.
During the interview, an advocate sits with the non-offending family members in our waiting room to help them navigate the process, answer any questions they may have, and most importantly, to build a relationship with them. The advocate can check on the child through the monitor with the team in order to comfort the family.
Once the interview is complete, the “Justice League” Team (it may sound cheesy to us, but the kids will love it) work collaboratively to ensure prosecution where possible, and help to facilitate the restoration of the child’s health and wellbeing. Each child's experience will be different but may include a non-acute medical exam and a bed in our short-term crisis housing, as well as any mental health services needed.
The Children’s Legacy Center will be linked arm-in-arm with our kiddos and their families throughout the court process—and even longer if needed—to provide counseling, art, music, and play therapy services.
One unique feature of our center, that makes it stand out from other models we researched, is the inclusion of six to ten crisis beds for foster children, commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), or homeless teens who come through our facility. The housing will be used as a crisis stay until CPS can find an appropriate housing option.
The Founding Committee made the decision to include the housing component due to the desperate need for such a facility in Shasta County. The facility will be licensed through the State of California and we will ensure proper safety measures, as well as a separation of the temporary residents from those who are receiving services.
We are very excited to provide a safe, beautiful, and welcoming environment for the children of our community who need it most.