Some of you may be surprised to learn that there was a time when I avoided public speaking at all costs! I was a painfully timid child. As late as 4th grade I couldn't enter the classroom without being accompanied by my mother. But something changed over the years. Now I am happiest when I have an audience and today was a really good day. I gave a talk at Rotary entitled "Alphabet Soup" to explain how Dearing House partner agencies (using acronyms....DHS, PCPD, KSO, OSBI, ICW, TPD, DA, SANE, EFCMHC, etc) work together to solve crimes against children.
Once I got over being shy, I love, adore, long to share information about Dearing House and our mission of hearing, helping, healing victims of child sexual abuse. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to talk about the great work being done by the professionals on our MDT... one of many acronyms we use....referring to the Multidisciplinary Child Protection Team which includes child welfare, law enforcement agencies, medical and mental health professionals, and others! It's always encouraging when people care enough to ask questions following the presentation. This was a smart bunch of people who offered a lot of food for thought.
Nineteen years in the field of child protection (DHS before Dearing House) has taken its toll and sometimes I make the assumption (never a good thing) that others know how things work at Dearing House. Responding to questions from the group opens my eyes to how child abuse is perceived by those who don't work in day after day. As much as I dreaded being called upon in 4th grade, I now love questions!
I learn from questions. I was reminded today that terms like "child advocacy center, (CAC)" and "court appointed special advocate, (CASA)" are easily confused. Both programs provide advocacy...we need a sidebar to define that term...and both focus on victims of child abuse. We just do it at different points along the continuum of intervention for abused kids.
The CAC...Dearing House...is ground zero, the very first stop in determining what, if anything, happened to the child. The child and family come to us immediately following the disclosure of abuse. It's our job to provide a setting and situation where the child victim, who is typically the only eye witness to the crime, can provide as much detail as possible. Next, the professionals on our MDT (defined above) utilizes their broad range of expertise to determine how to keep the child safe, and to further investigate the alleged crime from all angles before presenting their findings to the District Attorney. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) have their opportunity to get involved once the child's case reaches the court room. The judge determines when to appoint a CASA volunteer, a trained "extra set of eyes," to look after the needs of the child during the court process. This could be weeks, if not months, after the child was interviewed at Dearing House, and many cases are cleared up without going to court and won't involve CASA at all. Likewise, many of the kids helped by CASA have not been to Dearing House. Its more than the acronyms that can be confusing!
That's your serving of "alphabet soup" for today. From your questions, I can tell you want to know more about how all the agencies in this alphabet soup are effective and avoid duplicating services. We are in agreement! For example, the CASA Director and I discussed this article before I published it. Dearing House serves a unique position to coordinate with all the agencies responding to child sexual abuse victims so that the needs of the child are never forgotten in the process....or lost in the alphabet soup.
Now that I'm over being bashful, I look forward to more of your questions!
Maggi Hutchason, Executive Director and MDT Coordinator!