What is a Children's Advocacy Center?
To understand what a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is, you first need to recognize what children face without one.
Before Children’s Advocacy Centers existed, a child could end up having to tell the worst story of his or her life repeatedly, to doctors, law enforcement officers, lawyers, therapists, investigators, judges, and others. They would have to talk about that traumatic experience in a police station where they think they might be in trouble, or they could be asked the wrong questions by well-meaning teachers or other adults, that could actually end up compromising the potential case against the abuser.
When law enforcement or the Department of Child Safety believe a child may be experiencing abuse, the child is brought to the Children’s Advocacy Center—a safe, trauma informed, child-focused environment—by a non-offending family member or caregiver.
The child will tell their story once to a trained forensic 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, prosecution, Department of Child Safety, victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to best help the child based on the interview. This is called the multidisciplinary team (MDT) response and is a core part of the work of the Children’s Advocacy Center.
The Children’s Advocacy Center serves a critical role in our community when it comes to keeping children safe.
The model used by the center has been proven effective through many studies. The use of the Child Advocacy Center approach leads to more timely investigations, faster filing of charges, and a dramatic increase in felony prosecution of child sexual abuse, with a 196% greater rate of conviction.
Our Center History
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southern Arizona is a safe child-sensitive place where child victims of abuse undergo the initial steps of an investigation and begin to heal.
Approximately 1,400 children from throughout southern Arizona receive services from the Center each year.
These children have suffered sexual molestation, physical assault, or extreme neglect. They tell their story of abuse to specially trained Forensic Interviewers in a comfortable setting and receive medical attention from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. The Children’s Advocacy Center works closely with law enforcement, the Department of Child Safety, prosecuting attorneys, and community agencies to ensure these child victims are treated with respect and dignity and receive the services they need, while assuring offenders are held accountable for their crimes.
The Children’s Advocacy Center is where abuse ends and healing begins.
Protocols that Created the Children's Advocacy Center
The Pima County Task Force on Child Abuse Prosecution was formed in 1989 to address issues of investigation and prosecution of child abuse. In 1992 the Pima County Attorney’s Office was the recipient of grant funds from the Governor’s Office for Children to establish multi-disciplinary, interagency cooperation for the investigation and management of child abuse cases.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office took the lead in utilizing the Task Force to develop a set of protocols which contained a comprehensive array of policies and procedures representing all applicable disciplines. The Pima County Task Force’s Protocol for the Interagency Investigation of Child Abuse in Pima County came into existence in 1993. Over the succeeding years effective and meaningful partnerships were forged and strengthened among law enforcement agencies, Child Protective Services (CPS – since replaced by the Department of Child Safety, DCS), medical providers and the County Attorney’s Office which enhanced the overall abilities of each agency to respond to cases of child abuse. Representatives of the partner agencies meet twice monthly in a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) setting which allows for the review, and continued improvement in the system’s response to the needs of children. The MDT supplanted the Task Force.
In 1999 the Protocol was revised to reflect the utilization by the partner agencies of the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center. The Children’s Advocacy Center provides forensic interview and medical services at a single facility. Crisis intervention, domestic violence support, and counseling referrals for victims and their non-offending family members are offered. Law enforcement and DCS are located in the Center’s building, and are therefore immediately involved in the process. Case staffing and briefings occur there as well.
In 2003 representatives of the Pima County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, Child Protective Services, non-profit organizations, legislators and the Governor’s Office participated in a six month process to address issues relating to child protection and possible reform of the system which responds to crimes against children and issues of child welfare. The resulting House Bill redefined the mission of Child Protective Services and required that law enforcement and Child Protective Services jointly investigate all allegations of Criminal Conduct.
In March of 2004, the Pima County Attorney’s Office reconvened the Pima County Task Force on Child Abuse Prosecution to revise the existing Protocol. Original members of the Task Force, as well as new members, collaborated on its complete and extensive revision. In August 2006 the procedures in the 2004 protocol were reviewed and updated to produce the January 2007 Protocol.
In 2008 the legislature addressed issues of child abuse and joint investigations amending the statutes. A statewide summit including law enforcement, Child Protective Services and County Attorneys was held in Phoenix to review those changes and recommend common elements for protocols and reporting statewide.
Pima County is committed to the use of child and family advocacy centers, and in co- location of relevant agencies in the investigation and prosecution of cases of child maltreatment. Agencies in Pima County joined in a collaborative effort to develop an advocacy center that serves the needs of children and also addresses the needs of adult victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and elder abuse.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southern Arizona was established in 1996 as part of the Pima County Protocols for the Multidisciplinary Investigation of Child Abuse. These protocols are recognized by professionals in the field as the best practice for child abuse investigations and were adopted by the Pima County Attorney’s Office, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the Tucson Police Department, The Department of Child Safety, the Oro Valley Police Department, Marana Police Department, and mental health providers.
The first offices were located in what was then Kino Community Hospital (Banner – University Medical Center South today). After outgrowing that space, the Center moved to a vacant dentist office on Broadway Blvd. In 2008, the Center moved to its own, new building on Ajo Way, thanks to a Pima County Bond Election.
The staff and Board of Directors of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southern Arizona are proud to be a part of a coordinated response to child abuse in southern Arizona. We work diligently to assure each child is treated with dignity, and that his/her voice is heard throughout the investigative process.