Circle of Protection: A Child Advocacy Center Model
Child Abuse is one of the most significant public health problems in the United States. In addition to the alarming number of children who experience abuse and neglect, the economic repercussions are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:
- In 2017, an estimated 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect.
- About 674,000 children were identified as victims of child abuse or neglect by child protective service agencies in 2017.
- An estimated one in four children has experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and or neglect in the past year.
- In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was approximately $124 billion in 2008 (CDC, Child Abuse Prevention).
Although these statistics are daunting, there is hope. Working invisibly in the background of our community is a circle of protection. When an allegation of child abuse is made the circle of protection is called upon and the child and family at the center of the allegation are surrounded by professionals who work together in a coordinated and collaborative manner to ensure an effective and child-centered response.
The National Children’s Advocacy Center states, This innovative model recognized that in order for the United States to effectively respond to this issue that a unique public-private partnership was essential, and that the various agencies and departments responsible for the protection of children must be united in a collaborative effort to respond with the recognition that no one agency by itself could assure the protection of children. Only by working as a multidisciplinary team could we effectively respond to child abuse.
When police or child protective services believe a child is being abused, the child is brought to River Bridge Regional Center, a child advocacy center. River Bridge is a safe, child-focused environment where members of a multidisciplinary team gather to work together to support the child and their protective family.
The National Children’s Alliance explains, At the CAC, the child tells their story once to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask in a way that does not retraumatize the child. Then, a team that includes medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to help the child based on the interview. CACs offer therapy and medical exams, plus courtroom preparation, victim advocacy, case management, and other services. This is called the multidisciplinary team (MDT) response and is a core part of the work of CACs.
Every member of the circle of protection has a different job and a different focus during the child abuse allegation. Law enforcement professionals are fact finders. It is their job to investigate what happened and to corroborate or refute what has been told to them. Department of Human Services focuses on making sure kids are safe. When they are investigating an allegation their priority is safety. Forensic Interviewers talk to kids in a structured, developmentally appropriate and unbiased way. The District Attorney’s Office’s aim is to see what evidence would need to be collected to prove without a doubt that a crime was committed. Family advocates ensure that families are informed throughout the investigative and criminal proceedings, that they have all the resources that they need, and that they feel supported. Forensic Nurse Examiners goals are to ensure physical health is accounted for. Mental health professionals work with children and families to provide hope, healing, and resiliency.
The circle of protection is present on a child’s first visit to River Bridge and they meet on a regular basis to discuss cases and make sure that no family falls through the cracks. Child abuse cases are very difficult. Abuse happens in secrecy and perpetrators make it their mission to ensure that that secrecy is never broken. The circle of protection ensures that these cases have the best responses from everyone involved.