National statistics tell us that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know and may not report that abuse for fear of being blamed or not believed. A child advocacy center is a safe and comforting place for these children to come for interviews and assistance by specially trained investigative professionals. This child-focused approach is widely recognized as the best and most effective way of handling child abuse investigations.
Child Advocacy Centers are community-based, child friendly, multidisciplinary services for children and families affected by child sexual abuse or severe physical abuse or neglect. CAC’s bring together, in one location, Child Protective Services caseworkers, law enforcement, assistant district attorney’s and medical and mental health professional to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to victims and their caregivers.
Before CACs existed, the “system” was doing more harm than good to victims of child abuse. Children were expected to repeat their experience over and over again. Children were often questioned in not so comfortable locations like ER’s, police stations, school offices, or doctor’s offices and being re-traumatized each time they had to repeat the stories of the trauma they experienced.
Now, our partners: child welfare, law enforcement, prosecutors and medical and mental health professionals, come together in one location here. Children tell their experiences to a trained forensic interviewer, get a medical exam when needed, meet with a therapist when needed and are linked with a victim advocate. All team members work together to provide the child and family the services they need – from the beginning to the end of the process....which can be weeks, months, or even years of support.
The CAC is built on a multidisciplinary team approach by providing a non-threatening child focused environment. Our location is central and neutral for families and team members. The CAC provides supportive care for the child as well as the family. Our advocates work with the District Attorney's office and help families to navigate the court system. The advocates will also refer families to appropriate counseling centers where it will be convenient for them to get the services they need.
Today there are nearly 700 CACs nationwide and 20 in the state of Oklahoma. CACs are designed to meet the needs of the community in which it is located – so no 2 centers are exactly alike.
The idea to start a child advocacy center in Kay and Noble counties was initiated in 1998 by a Task Force under the guidance of the District Attorney's office. At that time, a new approach to responding to reports of possible child abuse was moving across the country, following the model of the first center, the National Child Advocacy Center, in Huntsville, Alabama.
Community awareness and support for a local center was generated by a "child watch tour" in 1999 when 20 community leaders were given the opportunity to follow the steps of a child during a re-enactment of the investigation process, with adults playing the roles of the child as well as the investigators, child welfare workers, and court personnel. Driven by the desire to improve the investigative process and outcomes for traumatized children and their families, community members on the tour made a commitment to support the Task Force' goals of creating a child advocacy center. The Task Force conducted a successful capital campaign and in 2002 began remodeling a donated building in compliance with national standards established for all centers by the National Children's Alliance..
Dearing House, named for the family that donated the building, opened its doors to children in April 2003. Dearing House is a non-profit organization, governed by a board of directors, and accredited by the National Children's Alliance, and Child Advocacy Centers of Oklahoma.