Who We Are
The Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center formally opened its doors on June 21, 2011, with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The TCCAC is organized as a 501© (3) nonprofit charitable organization. To date the CAC has served nearly 250 children. The CAC approach focuses on providing “best practice” care for these child victims , minimizing the trauma they experience and allowing investigations to move forward. Interviews are video recorded for use by investigators and medical professionals and these DVDs can be very compelling evidence in court proceedings, thus also protecting the community.
Summary of Development
Several years of planning, hard labor, commitment and dedication to children have gone into the Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center since its inception of 2009. The ideas were planted when child serving professionals from the County Prosecutor’s Office, Officers from Local Law Enforcement Agencies, and Child Protective Workers from Job and Family Services joined forces and attended a five day workshop on forensic child interviewing. The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) approach has been at the forefront of providing best practice to children of sexual and serious physical abuse. Traditionally, each system involved in the process has a different role in the investigation and intervention process. Sometimes, their efforts to fulfill these roles result in re-traumatizing the victim they are seeking to assist. The CAC creates a mechanism for coordinating these services. Now, instead of the child victim navigating a difficult and confusing system of multiple, repetitive interviews - the system is brought to the child. This unique, collaborative, wrap-around approach to child abuse was started in Huntsville, Ala. where the first CAC was developed a little over 25 years ago.
The primary goal of the Child Advocacy Center is to ensure that children disclosing abuse are not further victimized by the intervention systems designed to protect them. CAC’s are child-focused, facility-based programs in which representatives from many disciplines work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions on cases of child abuse. CAC models for child abuse intervention are proven and effective, bringing together trained professionals to investigate and provide medical and mental healthcare as well as support to child victims of abuse, while holding offenders accountable through the court system. CAC locations are child-focused and designed to create a sense of safety and security for child victims.
In April of 2010, officials and leaders of Tuscarawas County, including Juvenile Court Judge Linda Kate, Prosecutor Ryan Styer, Sheriff Walt Wilson and Director Lynn Angelozzi of Job and Family Services signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create the Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center. The TCCAC Board of Directors was organized as a nonprofit corporation 501©3. For over a year, retired former JFS Child Abuse Investigator Sandy Wood volunteered as the ad hoc director, preparing for the CAC for opening; writing grants, arranging training and the other countless tasks that needed done before the center could become operational.
The project took a major step forward when community leaders and the Tuscarawas County Commissioners agreed on the ideal space at the Tuscarawas County Child Support Enforcement Agency, with a no-cost lease agreement. The Collaboration continued as additional community partners came together to support the project through capital grants; with the Timken Foundation, the Rosenberry, Haman and Moomaw Foundation awarding a total of $45,000 in grants to remodel the new home of the CAC. In-Kind donations came from Dutchman Hospitality Group, Williams Furniture, and Gradall Industries to complete the items needed to make the space functional and home-like. The ADAMHS Board created a huge endorsement when they agreed to help support much of the CAC’s operational expenses. Many others have contributed their time, made in-kind donations and contributed financially to support the opening of Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center. Operational expenses have been supported by the Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Tuscarawas County, and the Tuscarawas County - Sheriff, Prosecutor, and Department of Job and Family Services.
In April of 2011 the Board of Directors officially hired Sandy Wood, as its part-time director. Her role, among many, was to coordinate the multidisciplinary interviews, facilitate bi-weekly team review meetings, and promote community awareness regarding child abuse. As part of the CAC process, a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of professionals meets the first and third Wednesdays of the month to review cases that have been interviewed and recorded at the CAC. The MDT is made up of highly trained professionals, including representatives from the CAC, investigators from Job and Family Services, child advocacy, prosecution, law enforcement, mental health, and medical personnel. The Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center opened its doors on June 21, 2011, with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The center is a member of the Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers, and is and Associate Member of the National Children’s Alliance. The NCA is the national association and accrediting body for children’s advocacy centers around the country, dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient– and put the needs of child victims first.
Children come into the CAC and are immediately greeted by a huge, colorful mural on the stairwell wall, painted by local artist Teresa Prince. The waiting room is stocked with stuffed animals, a child-sized table, art supplies, and other child-friendly items. Adjacent to the waiting area is an interview room, where a trained investigator may first interview parents or others involved in the child’s life before the child’s interview takes place. The interview process is video-taped and played in the observation room on a computer screen, where team members are gathered for evaluation and input.
The main objectives of a CAC are 1) to provide a child-friendly supportive atmosphere for children and families; 2) to assure that interviewers of children are specially trained and peer reviewed; 3) to provide case review that maximizes communication between multiple agencies to assure that each child victim is receiving the most appropriate services; and 4) to determine the cause of abuse. Children's advocacy centers emphasize the coordination of investigation and intervention services by bringing together professionals and agencies as a multidisciplinary team to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases. As a general matter, services provided by children's advocacy centers include the following: Multidisciplinary Team Response, Child and Family Friendly Facilities, Forensic Interviewing Services, Victim Advocacy and Support, Specialized Medical Evaluation and Treatment, Specialized Mental Health Services, Training, Education and Support for Child Abuse Professionals, Community Education and Outreach.
By using the CAC approach, repeated interviews are avoided, the risk of re-traumatizing the child is reduced and care is taken to gain the most information possible by highly trained forensic interviewers. In addition, the team can act quickly and efficiently to protect the child and as well as determine from a legal standpoint if any immediate action is needed. The interviews are done using proven techniques, based on best practices evidence so an advantage is established if it goes through prosecution in regard to admissible evidence. Additionally, the interviews are video recorded for use by investigators and other professionals as needed. These DVDs can be used as evidence in court proceedings, as well as for peer review - sharpening the skills of the interviewer. These factors ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted with evidence that is garnered with best practices and current methodology. Most importantly, the CAC advocates for the best interest of the child and assures that the team is providing every opportunity to maximize the supports available for their health and well being, as well as address the health and well being of the community.
Growing the Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center
National statistics reflect that one in four girls and one in six boys will have been sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old. In 2010, Tuscarawas County Job and Family Services investigators interviewed 204 children that were victims or witnesses stemming from 85 cases of alleged sexual abuse; in 2011 that number grew to 249 children. The need for the CAC continues to grow. In its first six months of operation, the CAC served 30 children from June through December of 2011. So far in 2012, the CAC has supported over 80 children at the facility in this collaborative process.
The Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center Director, Sandra Wood retired at the beginning of September 2012. As the CAC has celebrated its first full year of operation and is moving forward the timing to review the CAC progress, evaluate its triumphs and assess its challenges is now. The Board hired an interim director to assess the organization, outline next steps and to implement strategies to move toward becoming an accredited CAC. Being able to obtain permanent, quality leadership for this organization will be crucial to its ability to meet the upcoming demands. Through the end of 2012 and early 2013 the Board of Directors and the CAC strengthened its organizational capacity and was able to get some financial stability with the help of the community and local foundations. In July of 2013, Vanessa Stergios moved from Interim to Director of the CAC. By the end of 2013 the TCCAC had established itself as an Associate Member of the National Children's Alliance, developed a strong relationship with Noah's Hope, a local organization dedicated to child abuse prevention and awareness activities, and grown its Board of Directors.
In order to reach full accreditation status, the TCCAC must continue the collaborative approach to investigating child abuse, and providing positive impact through a child-focused approach to abuse intervention on the child victims and their families. The TCCAC must further educate the local community of the resources offered on prevention and intervention to child abuse.
The National Children’s Alliances provides accreditation, training, support, technical assistance and leadership on a national level to the over 700 local children’s and child advocacy centers and communities responding to reports of child abuse and neglect across the country. Becoming a Accredited Member ensures that the CAC program adheres to a rigorous set of 10 standards of quality service provisions known to be effective in helping children heal from the effects of abuse. These standards established by the NCA board of directors that ensure effective, efficient and consistent delivery of services. The TCCAC is a member of the Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers, and is in the developing member of the National Children’s Alliance. The next step in the process is to become an associate member; and the final step in the process would become an accredited member. Additional steps need to be in place before the Tuscarawas County CAC can become an associate member; including working out the medical components of patient care. Community partners, supporters and revenue streams need to be enhanced and cultivated.
As 2013 drew to a close and in early 2014 the TCCAC partnership with Akron Children's Hospital is well on its way in establishing medical history. Tele-health Medicine brings the Child Abuse Experts of Akron Children's Hospital right to our community through our local Akron Children's Branch, where children can receive many of the services of these experts without the hour and a half drive to Akron. Dr. Daryl Steiner and Dr. John Melville have the ability to assess the medical needs of our patients through state of the art technology.
The Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Tuscarawas County has identified the TCCAC as a valuable partner in providing best practice services to this vulnerable segment of our population by committing ongoing funding to this project. The Tuscarawas County agencies – Prosecutor, Sheriff and Department of Job and Family Services too, have continued to support the CAC despite their continued budget cuts both locally and at the State level. The County Commissioners support the CAC by providing rent-free space in the Child Support Enforcement Agency building. Local Foundations and private donations, along with these sources of funding have allowed the CAC to open the doors and serve children. However, the next steps in development demand the expansion of ongoing and sustainable funding streams so that the CAC can become accredited through the NCA and enhance the quality of services delivered.
Local organizations, Noah's Hope and the Dover Exchange Club have supported the TCCAC and the children we serve by hosting events, Noah's Hope Family Fun Day and Chicken BBQ, respectively. The proceeds of these events have been donated to the TCCAC and provide critical financial stability to the organization; allowing us to provide "best practice" care to the child victims of abuse in this community.
Community partnerships continue to be developed and enhanced; to become a voice for children in this community or for more information about the CAC; contact the Vanessa Stergios, Executive Director, Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center. The CAC is located at 152 Second Street Northeast, New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663; or contacts can be made at P.O. Box 982, New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663, email at email@example.com or by phone at 330-364-2777.