The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Michigan is a program whose purpose is to facilitate and coordinate the work of organizations responsible for the investigation of child sexual abuse. We seek to reduce the trauma of these investigations and to compassionately meet the needs of sexually abused children.
As a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), we provide consistent and timely response to abuse reports. We dramatically reduce the number of interviews a victim must undergo, while ensuring the child obtains effective medical and mental health services or referrals to professional support services. Because of our multidisciplinary approach, we have seen an increase in successful prosecutions.”
Our program serves children between the ages of 3 and 18, from Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties. We offer a child-oriented, neutral environment so that children are not re-victimized by the systems designed to protect them.
Play it Safe!
The program for children incorporates age-appropriate scripts and movies to teach children how to reduce their risk of sexual and physical abuse, and sexual assault. Giving children the tools to protect themselves is critical in our efforts to prevent abuse. Each grade level has their own curriculum and speaks to children in age-appropriate ways. Presentations include short films and scripted discussions; for children in Pre-K through 2nd grade, the lessons also utilize dolls and coloring books. Program topics include – but are not limited to – keeping secrets, telling a trusted adult, and safe, unsafe, and confusing touch for Pre-K through elementary school children. “Sexting” and cyberbullying, adult on adolescent abuse of power, and dating violence/rape for grades 6-12.
When a child is referred to us by law enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services, we provide legally sound, non-leading and neutral interviews conducted by a highly trained interviewer who has knowledge of the child’s developmental and emotional stage. We use an unbiased approach to seek the truth and to support fair decision-making in the criminal and child protective services system. The forensic interviewer interviews the child one-on-one in a room separated by one-way glass, following strict protocols to ensure the child is able to participate. The multidisciplinary investigation team meets in the observation room, unseen by the child. This approach dramatically reduces the number of times the child has to tell the story, therefore reducing the trauma to the child.
To decrease trauma as much as possible, we provide medical examinations and evaluation of sexual assault victims on site in our child-oriented environment. Through our collaboration with Lakeland Healthcare, we utilize Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who are well trained and knowledgeable in how to interact with assault victims to collect evidence while preserving body integrity.
Multidisciplinary Team Approach (MDT)/Case Management
We use a multidisciplinary team response for child abuse allegations which includes representation from Child Protective Services, law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, mental health, family advocacy, and medical. The CAC coordinates regular case reviews of each child seen at the Center, and each case is tracked throughout the investigation and prosecution until a final disposition is reached.
Prevention Services and Training
We cannot expect children to fend off sexual abuse. Adults are equipped emotionally and intellectually to prevent this horror. At the Children’s Advocacy Center, we use a training program provided by Darkness to Light, a nationally renowned organization dedicated to ending child sexual abuse. Their “Stewards of Children” training teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The training is designed for organizations and individuals that serve youth or for those who simply care about children. This program is also available in Spanish. (Este programa también está disponible en español.)
Family Advocacy/Victim Support
We provide crisis intervention and support to the child and non-offending family members. Our services include client education, victim’s rights information, and referral to local services as needed.
Abuse can leave lasting scars. To begin the healing process, we provide crisis counseling services as well as ongoing therapy to victims of child sexual abuse, their non-offending family members, and to adult survivors of child sexual abuse.