Children’s Advocacy Centers are available to approximately 4 in every 5 U.S. children, yet over 13 million children are living in areas without a CAC. Teresa Huizar, Director of the National Children’s Alliance
shares a conversation on the role advocacy centers play in helping children heal from abuse.
Traynham: Each year, Child Protective Services helps more than 3 million children across the United States. Of the nearly 700,000 cases of abuse reported each year, 90% of alleged abusers were related in some way to the child victim. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me to discuss the role of advocacy centers and abuse prevention and treatment is Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children´s Alliance. Teresa, welcome to the program. It is nice to see you again.
Huizar: Thanks for having me, Robert.
Traynham: So, I want to focus for a few moments about prevention, but, also, talk about some of the success stories, if you will, about...
Traynham: ...about children. Walk us through, specifically, what you´ve seen in your years in this work.
Huizar: Well, I think one of the things that we should keep in mind is that, 30 years ago, if a child was abused or disclosed abuse, what would happen is that they would have to go from police department to Child Protective Services to tell their story over and over and over again. And they might or might not get any help afterwards. Fast-forward to today. There are more than 800 children´s advocacy centers across the country. And when a child comes forward and says that they´ve been abused or someone´s concerned about abuse, they´re going to go to one of those centers. they´re going to be interviewed by a neutral, trained, objective adult, and they´re going to get the medical and mental health care they need to heal.
Traynham: Teresa, there´s a stigma or a stereotype that once you´ve been scarred, you´re scarred for life, that once you´ve been abused, you´ll always be abused. You´ll always have that "baggage" for the rest of your life. Is that true?
Huizar: Well, I think that it´s certainly true that no one is ever gonna forget their abuse. But I think that, with effective treatment, we can make sure that the abuse someone has experienced doesn´t define their life. It´s a terrible thing that´s happened to them. But they can recover from their trauma. And, you know, a few years ago, we didn´t know what treatments were really helpful in making that happen, but now we do. And we´re so grateful that children´s advocacy centers are able to help more than 300,000 children each year heal from abuse.
Traynham: What are children´s advocacy centers? At its core, what is the mission? What does success look like?
Huizar: Success looks like two things. First of all, taking one of these incidents and making sure that the offender is not able to hurt that child or other children again. And so, we work with law enforcement and prosecution in that end. But, secondarily, and as importantly, is making sure that the child is going to heal. So we´re going to want to make sure they get the medical care they need to ensure that they don´t have some lingering health effects from abuse and, also, that they´re going to get the counseling they need so they´re able to fully recover. They´re able to go on with their life and have an adulthood in which they thrive.
Traynham: It sounds like the thesis of what you´re saying is that kids can get better, that they do have a voice, and they will have an advocate to help them walk through this stage of healing.
Huizar: We look at it this way -- that, prior to children´s advocacy centers, children just had to hope that they might find the help they need. With this model, all of the help comes to the child.
Traynham: I see.
Huizar: The child is at the center of it.
Traynham: And so, what did life look like before CACs? What did that look like?
Huizar: Well, it was pretty grim. I think that many, many children didn´t get any help at all, or if they did, they might´ve reported their abuse and something might´ve happened with the criminal case, but they never received any treatment. And we know that, when a child hasn´t had the treatment they need, they´re not gonna be able to focus at school, they´re not gonna be able to sleep well at night, they may act out or have behavioral problems, and they´re much more likely to be a victim throughout their life span. So we want to interrupt that cycle.
Traynham: Mm-hmm. It sounds like, before the CASs came -- CACs came on...
Huizar: CACs, yes.
Traynham: ...came on the scene, it´s almost like the child had to navigate this by him or herself, almost.
Huizar: That´s absolutely correct. And I think families were really flummoxed. We were asking a lot of a child -- first of all, to have the courage to come forward, and then, somehow, figure out a very complicated system.
Huizar: So this really steps in to provide that support for the child and their family to say, "We´re gonna wrap the loving arms of the community around you and help you get better."
Traynham: And so, let´s fast-forward again, using your terminology, to today. Looking at CACs, what does life look like now?
Huizar: So much better. I mean, we would love to work ourselves out of a job. Don´t get me wrong. But as long as there is abuse, we´re there to help. We´re going to -- when a child comes in, we´re gonna be there every step of the way, from the moment they make their disclosure until long after any court involvement, until they´re feeling that they don´t need any additional support from us. And I think that really distinguishes the services of a CAC from any other services. It´s not determined by a specific length of time or particular court process. But as long as they need us, we´re there for them.
Traynham: Teresa, thank you very much for coming on. And thank you, quite frankly, for -- The way I look at this is, before this, this was nothing but just black-and-white. But now things are in color in many, many ways. So thank you very much for being a child advocate.
Huizar: Thank you.
Traynham: Keep up the good work.
Traynham: And of course, thank you for joining us as well. And for more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.