Part of an ongoing series, Director’s Commentary features posts written by Indiana Chapter Director Jan Lutz. Click here to read the first post.
Shortly before I was hired to lead the Indiana Chapter, the organization developed its first project. They chose to establish a forensic interviewing protocol in Indiana. They didn’t know what a great interview looked like and knew that until professionals were trained they couldn’t adequately serve Indiana’s children.
Since that time, Indiana has provided a program called Finding Words (now Child First Indiana). It’s a five day, comprehensive training program that spun off from the Chapter and is provided by the Indiana Child Advocacy Centers Coalition. We quickly realized we had pigeon-holed ourselves and we needed to bolster the Chapter. We continue to support them, primarily through helping with training events.
Once the Chapter decided to do more under its own umbrella, we started looking around the state to see who was doing what. A lot of the work that being done in Indiana in the early 2000’s was under a really liberal definition of a Child Advocacy Center (CAC). The intentions were good, but we had nine people at the table when I first started and everyone was calling themselves a CAC. In reality, many were MDTs (multi-disciplinary teams). They were interviewing children about alleged maltreatment, but there were no wraparound services like victim advocacy, medical or mental health. Over time the Chapter has rallied around this over-arching goal to make sure CACs in Indiana are striving to offer all the services the National Children’s Alliance standards define.
Today we have 25 CACs and MDT’s in Indiana, up from 9 in 2004. 5 are currently accredited with 4 more expected early next year. The National Children’s Alliance has recently released its revised Standards so we expect some of their new requirements may soon redefine catchment areas for our CACs and MDTs. Mostly because those teams don’t have formal agreements and understandings with the counties they’re serving.
After all these years of experience, Indiana and the Chapter still has its strength in forensic interviewing. I get multiple calls a month from people across the US asking for help. A CAC or MDT somewhere may need information on how to provide a specific kind of interview, like a multi-session interview, and they turn to us.
We’ve also grown a coverage area that’s very unique and excellent for a state as large as Indiana. Regional CACs like the Southeastern CAC covers 7 counties. Susie’s Place now covers a huge 27-county area with county caseloads ranging from a few to hundreds. We’re very proud of that and that all our CACs and MDTs never say no to a child and a family when they come by way of the Indiana Department of Child Services or law enforcement. We willingly do courtesy interviews from around the country; something that Chapters are instrumental in facilitating. Just recently I had a call from an Army base in Texas needing assistance having a forensic interview conducted. I was able to direct them to law enforcement and the CAC in the area closest to the child and family needing service.
But as great as that coverage is, there are still counties with no dedicated CAC of their own. One of the most difficult things I do is having conversations with county Prosecutors or other leaders. It’s up to me to ask if they want a CAC or if they need a CAC. Sometimes a county has to give up their dream of having their own CAC because the numbers simply don’t support it. This means the few cases they do have may require the Team and family to drive a distance – usually well less than an hour one way. It doesn’t mean those children and families are any less valuable. We’re just trying to protect a community from huge ongoing costs. As difficult it is to start a CAC, it’s that much more difficult to sustain it financially and with a solid team.
On the topic of funding, the Victims of Crime and Abuse Act has made for a huge influx of funds to Indiana CACs just this year. We’ve been able to hire additional Victim Advocates because of that grant money. With financial support from the Indiana Children’s Justice Institute the Chapter has provided two trainings for Victim Advocates in 2016.
It’s a huge difference from 15 years ago, when our entire Chapter budget was $5,000, consisting of one grant from the Midwest Regional Child Advocacy Center. There were a lot of volunteer hours back then!
A few years later we were granted $50,000 a year from the National Children’s Alliance, which was a huge turning point. But despite that, other grants, and VOCA today, our biggest challenges are still funding the Chapter and CACs.
In 2017, the Midwest Regional CAC and the National Children’s Alliance are redefining their roles and plans, too. Chapters across the country are going to have greater responsibility for training local CACs with things like resiliency, board development, victim advocacy and strategic planning of their own.
Throughout it all, we work to understand what our CACs and our MDTs need. It continues to be the Indiana Chapter’s responsibility to ensure those needs are met and that team members are trained and supported.