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Offering Help & Hope: Central MN Child Advocacy Center

In recent years, growing attention has been given to understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on the development of undesirable health and behavioral outcomes. Outcomes associated with ACEs include drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behavior, obesity, depression, mental health issues, heart and lung disease and even premature death.

The good news is that while science has discovered a link between ACE scores and poor outcomes, experiencing adverse childhood events does not necessarily predict one’s destiny. Childhood experiences, including child abuse, can impact who we become as adults, but they do not have to.

Utilizing what we know about ACEs combined with the hope of offering child abuse victims high-quality, coordinated, and comprehensive investigations, members from the National Children’s Alliance (NCA), Stearns County Attorney’s Office, local Law Enforcement, and CentraCare came together in effort to change the conversation concerning child abuse investigations. The result; the creation of the Central MN Child Advocacy Center (CMCAC) in 2016.

The CMCAC’s primary goal is to assist during child abuse investigations, which is achieved through a multidisciplinary and child friendly approach. CMCAC fosters healing and resiliency by providing evidence-based, trauma informed victim centered forensic interviews, advocacy, medical care and mental health services.

Forensic interviews conducted at the CMCAC are done so in a manner that is developmentally and culturally sensitive, providing the child the opportunity to share details of their trauma story with the interviewer while simultaneously being remotely observed by all investigative agency partners. Prior to CMCAC’s existence, children were asked to factually discuss their trauma on more than one occasion through the course of the investigation.

Victim advocates are available to connect with and support the child’s non-offending caregiver. This supportive connection is often ongoing and may involve crisis intervention, safety planning, and/or referrals for additional services. Advocates can also assist caregiver(s) with information on case updates and provide support during court. Research suggests that parents who feel supported are better equipped to support their children.

CMCAC recognizes the importance of medical evidence collection and documentation, however, referrals for medical examinations of children are not limited to those for which DNA evidence may exist. CMCAC medical providers recognize the effects of childhood trauma on brain development and overall health. A medical exam may simply reassure a child that their body is okay or may provide an opportunity for the child and family member to address other medical or mental health concerns. Oftentimes, additional referrals are made for specialized care. Mental Health referrals are made for evidenced-based treatment shown to reduce the impact of trauma and the risk of future abuse.

CMCAC is committed to child abuse prevention efforts, or in the words of a valued team member, efforts to put CMCAC out of business. To date, these efforts include providing trauma informed foster care exams, specialized services addressing needs of Sexually Exploited Youth, involvement with parent support groups such as Circle of Parents, and preventative education programs designed to assist educators, caregivers and students in addressing body safety.

More information about the National Children’s Alliance and what you can do to help child abuse victims become survivors can be found at: http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/