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Child Advocacy Center: Building awareness about child abuse

Children who are victims of abuse sometimes have to relive their terror by telling and retelling their stories to police, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, lawyers, and judges. But 332 Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) nationwide help ensure that children are not revictimized by the very system designed to protect them. Now there's one more CAC-at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (ChaD).

Robert Reece speaks at a forum sponsored by Dartmouth-Hitchcock's CAC.

Cases: In 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 896,000 reported cases of child abuse in the United States. Some 1,400 children (more than three a day) died as a result of abuse. The actual incidence of abuse and neglect is estimated to be three times greater. CACs are set up in childfriendly places, sometimes even in houses. In fact, CHaD has joined forces with a nearby CAC based in a house-the Family Place in Norwich, Vt.-to build awareness about child abuse.

CACs "cover the waterfront in terms of the physical structure," says Robert Reece, M.D., director of CHaD's Child Advocacy and Protection Program, "but it should be a place that a child will feel comfortable."

Interview rooms in some CACs are equipped with oneway mirrors so the person "who's doing the interview would be prompted by the people behind the one-way mirror to ask certain questions that they thought were important to ask," Reece says. The idea is to keep the child from being interviewed multiple times, make the situation less stressful, and enhance interdisciplinary communication.

"Forensic interviews would be [done by] highly trained, skilled people who would know not to ask leading questions, who would know to allow the child to tell her or his story rather than prompting him in any way that would not be a good situation in a legal context," Reece adds. With a well-conducted interview, a prosecutor is more likely to be able to strike a plea-bargain, so the child won't have to appear in court. And, the hope is, a child who does have to testify will be well prepared.

CACs are designated by the National Children's Alliance (www.nca-online.org) and represent a collaboration among police, prosecutors, child protection services, mental health agencies, victims' advocates, and the medical community. Just like the other 332 CACs, the one at CHaD offers a child-friendly environment and staff committed to making kids' lives better.

Laura Stephenson Carter

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