We don't like to think of children being abused. We often want to believe abuse is something that happens to other people, in big cities. But if we watch the TV, read the paper or just interact with neighbors all of us know abuse is in our community. Physical and sexual abuse have to be the worst thing we can think of happening to our children. But it does happen and we have to be ready to help the victims.
How is it dealt with in our county?
By the Department of Social Services, various law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, doctors and lawyers. These dedicated professionals do their best, with the best of intentions and for many children the system may work. But for most children, no matter what is intended, the process of interviewing and investigating and prosecuting and examining is as traumatic as the abuse itself.
Why is the process of abuse interviewing traumatic for children?
In the current system, a child has a minimum of four interviews at adult-oriented government offices, may have one or more physical exams, usually in the emergency room by strangers, and by the time they reach law enforcement or the solicitor's office for a court case they are unable or unwilling to cooperate. By being forced to tell the story over and over, a child may not think people believe them. They may want to change their story based on what they think adults want to hear. They may even deny the original abuse out of fear of being taken from their family or from a desire to be left alone.
"There has to be a better way. "
This is the thought that has crossed the minds of nearly everyone in any community whose responsibility it is to serve victims of child abuse. Actually, there is a better way. The approach to child abuse which is the least traumatic for a child is a Children's Advocacy Center.
What is a Children's Advocacy Center?
This concept takes all the services that a child needs and brings them together under one roof. There is medical equipment on site which is specific for abuse exams and a single video recorded interview is conducted by a trained professional. At this center there is a single intake form used by all agencies. The child is evaluated and treated at the same site for mental health and social services. When law enforcement is involved they are present for the interview, on the other side of a two way mirror, able to feed questions to the interviewer through an audio setup. If the solicitor must become involved he or she may use the information from the interview and medical exam in court.