2017-12-07 / Front Page

Child Advocacy Center will support Circuit’s children

news editor

CAC Director Kari Viola-Brook described the services offered by the new Child Advocacy Center during tours of the facility last Friday. CAC Director Kari Viola-Brook described the services offered by the new Child Advocacy Center during tours of the facility last Friday. 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 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 moreso 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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