The National Research Conference on Early Childhood (NRCEC) from the Administration for Children and Families…
by Thomas Knapp, South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers and Megan Carolan, ICS VP of Research
A new report from the South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers (SCNCAC) documents tremendous progress in bringing Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) and their services to South Carolina’s children and families in need, and highlights future needs to ensure these essential programs are always available when needed.
CACs are an important resource for children and their families when children are named as victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe neglect, maltreatment, or a witness to a crime. The investigation of allegations requires multiple agencies to determine whether a crime occurred. The CAC model promotes the multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach when handling such cases to reduce trauma and increase communication and efficiency throughout the investigative process. When abuse is disclosed, the child is brought to a safe, child-friendly, neutral CAC facility to be interviewed by a highly trained forensic interviewer. The professionals involved in the investigation convene at the CAC for the forensic interview and forensic medical exam, which provides the opportunity for all parties to be aware of the child’s disclosure, to share case information with one another, and determine the next steps in the investigation. In addition, the CAC supports the child and the family through continued advocacy and referrals for specialized mental health and/or medical services. Through CACs, child victims and the affected families find hope, healing, comfort, and justice.
SCNCAC’s new report finds greater access to these essential resources in the last several years at both the county- and child-level:
This graphic refers to access to fully accredited CACs; all counties in the state are covered by multidisciplinary teams (MDT) through memorandums of understanding between interagency partners. At the same time, the years since the 2018 report have been turbulent for SC’s children and all children nationwide; SCNAC reports a 31 percent increase in children served since 2018.
With a focus on these growing needs, as well as the ultimate goal of ensuring 100 percent of children have access to these services should they need them, SCNCAC highlighted several recommendations for maintaining the system in the future, particularly given the estimate that referrals will increase by 17 percent annually over the next several years.
A key strategy in meeting all of these needs is the ongoing development of a pipeline of qualified, compassionate expert practitioners in the field—a challenge facing many sectors of the workforce serving families, as highlighted in a recent ICS paper. The SCNCAC report identifies several areas of need for this workforce and their complexities, including training existing providers; recruiting Child Abuse Pediatricians; and retaining the current Child Abuse Pediatricians in the state:
In 2018, building from research conducted with SCNCAC of their member centers, ICS wrote: “Child Advocacy Centers are lifeline for families facing abuse. South Carolina can keep innovating as a leader.” SCNCAC has worked to continue on that foundation and build a robust network of essential services for children and families facing a crisis. The continued growth in these needs presents challenges similar to many other human service agencies. The strong collaborations among partners in South Carolina will help ensure we all can rise to that challenge.