The goals of a multi-disciplinary collaborative investigative approach to allegations of child physical and sexual abuse are to provide for the safety of the child; to reduce the trauma experienced by the child; to enhance the investigative process while eliminating duplication of efforts; to promote successful prosecution of child abuse cases; to facilitate the healing process for primary and secondary victims of abuse.
The Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf (CAC) works to achieve these goals and to ensure that children are not further victimized by the intervention systems designed to protect them. The CAC provides a warm comfortable center for professionals from Erie County to come together and work collaboratively in investigating allegations of abuse and providing services to abused children. These cases are managed by a multidisciplinary team made up of district attorney, law enforcement, child protection, medical and mental health professionals, victim advocates, and center staff. This approach promotes coordination of the investigation which enhances accountability and assists victims heal.
Each agency works collaboratively to assist each other. No one agency can do it all. Each member brings to the table a specific resource to ensure protection of the child.
The CAC Staff provides coordination to the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT), managing the process from the initial outcry to completion of services. The CAC works with team members and families throughout the case, coordinating and tracking investigative, prosecutorial, child protection and treatment efforts so that cases do not “fall through the cracks.” The CAC provides a safe place to conduct investigations and facilitate open communication between team members and families to ensure continuity and consistency throughout the case process. The staff coordinates medical evaluations, and crisis and short-term counseling services. If needed, staff assists families with referrals for additional services available at outside agencies. CAC and MDT staff engages in outreach to enhance community awareness and understanding of child abuse and to promote prevention efforts. Interpreter services are provided in appropriate cases. Transportation assistance may be provided as a last report if a family has no other means of getting to the CAC appointment.
Child Protective Services (CPS) is responsible for the protection of children. CPS becomes involved when notified by the State Central Registry that abuse to a child under the age of 18 has occurred involving a parent or other person legally responsible for the child. Upon receiving a report of suspected child abuse, a CPS worker initiates an investigation within 24 hours to determine the current and future risk of harm to the child and any other children in the home. During the initial investigation a joint response including law enforcement is initiated. In appropriate cases, a forensic interview and/ or medical exam of the child is scheduled at the CAC. If there is an immediate threat to the child’s life or health, CPS may remove the child from the home. However, the primary focus of CPS is to provide services which sustain, protect and empower families. If CPS files a civil abuse or neglect petition against a partner/caregiver, Erie County is represented by attorneys employed by the Erie County Department of Social Services (ECDSS) Office of Counsel. If there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the case criminally, the ECDSS Office of Counsel may be able to bring a civil prosecution. The outcome of this, in serious cases, can lead to the termination of parental rights.
Law Enforcement Officials work to protect residents within our community. They investigate and determine whether or not a crime has been committed. An initial report of child abuse received by law enforcement will determine case process. A report may dictate a joint response to include Child Protective Services. However, when the report does not involve a parent or other person legally responsible for the child law enforcement maintains sole jurisdiction of the case. Once a report is received, a forensic interview and/or medical exam is usually scheduled at the CAC. Evidence collected throughout an investigation is maintained by the law enforcement agency in charge. Based on the evidence found through their investigation, the investigator presents their findings to the District Attorney’s office for potential prosecution.
The District Attorney is responsible for assessing the case for prosecution, filing charges and prosecuting cases of child abuse. The prosecutor works with victims and families to assist them throughout the court process. The District Attorney provides court preparation for professionals that are required to testify. In addition, the prosecutor provides information to the MDT regarding case filings, upcoming court activity, and court outcome.
Forensically Trained Medical Providers are specially trained to conduct a medical evaluation in cases of suspected physical or sexual child abuse. The primary purpose of the medical evaluation is to promote and assure the physical and psychological well-being of the child. The specific goals of the medical exam are to identify trauma which must be treated; to identify medical conditions such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease; to identify other forms of abuse; to collect and identify medical-legal evidence if present; to reassure the adult caretaker and child that the child is going to be okay.
Victim advocates work with families to provide up-to-date information and on-going support. Children and families in crisis need assistance in the navigation of the child welfare and criminal justice systems. A Victim Advocate meets with families while at the center to help them understand the services that can be offered throughout the case process. Victim Advocates provide crisis support, explain the investigative process, assist with filing of victim services applications, and make referrals as needed.
Therapeutic Services are provided to all children and families who become involved with the CAC without regard to ability to pay. There is an on-site clinical therapist who specializes in trauma focused treatment at the CAC. She provides crisis intervention and short-term counseling services to children and non-offending family members who are involved with the CAC. Her services are free of charge and supported by a grant. In the event that a family should choose to receive mental health services elsewhere, the Clinical Therapist or Victim Advocate will assist in that linkage.