Child Advocacy Centers across Indiana saw 6.6% more children walk through their doors in 2017 than 2016. In total, 10,958 forensic interviews were conducted last year. 10,276 were conducted in 2016.
Unlike in prior years where new CACs opened at a steady pace and accounted for some growth, only one new CAC opened in 2017: Susie’s Place in Terre Haute. There, Susie’s Place saw 241 children in six months of operation.
Cases are becoming more diverse and echoing issues counties across Indiana are struggling with.
“Historically we saw only sex crime cases. Over the last few years we’re seeing far more witness-to-crime, physical abuse, and serious severe neglect cases,” says Emily Perry, Indiana CAC Chapter President and Executive Director of Susie’s Place Child Advocacy Centers.
Much of that has been attributed to increases in opioid drug use, but awareness also accounts for an increase. More suspected cases of neglect and maltreatment are reported now than ever before.
“This diversifying caseload creates challenges for cross-training our team members. It also dramatically increases secondary trauma inflicted on our staff from working so many violent crime cases. We’ve had to get better at supporting our teams in different ways,” she says.
“Many CACs may feel they are at or near capacity. But there is no case where a child has been turned away. When the Department of Child Services or law enforcement brings a child to a CAC, the staff make it work. That often means longer hours, but the work gets done for the benefit of the child,” said Jan Lutz, Director of the Indiana Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance.
At Susie’s Place, Perry says, “We’ve blown through our capacity ceiling so many times I take the approach that when we hit our threshold, we raise the bar. We’ll never say no to a child in need.”
“We’ve blown through our capacity ceiling so many times I take the approach that when we hit our threshold, we raise the bar. We’ll never say no to a child in need.”
The largest year-over-year increase in caseload came from The CASIE Center in South Bend. An additional 113 families were served there in 2017 than in 2016.
Carolyn Hahn, Indiana CAC Chapter Treasurer and Executive Director of the CASIE Center in South Bend notes, “Forensic interviews from CACs became the gold standard for documenting a child’s discussion of allegations of sexual abuse. DCS, Law Enforcement and Prosecutors have come to expect the same quality of interview for children involved in other allegations including physical abuse, drug endangerment, witness to domestic violence, and witness to other serious crimes including fatalities.”
Some Indiana CACs are increasingly conducting additional forensic interviews for siblings or other family members. When law enforcement arrives with a primary child victim, other children in the home may be at risk. Or they may have vital information to help aid the case. In those instances, CACs are increasingly providing additional interviews and treatment. This helps document their case and protect the children and family if they’re still in danger.
In addition, non-offending adult family members are getting additional help. Victim Advocates are now in many more of Indiana’s 24 CACs. Mental and physical health exams are accessible for CAC clients and families. Where CACs have partnered with mental or medical professionals, advocates, or prevention partners, families are being connected closely or on-site with the right professionals who can help.
In rural communities where travel poses a significant challenge, satellite CACs are operating in three locations. CACs that operate from a primary location may establish satellite locations that are used part-time in areas with significant caseload, but not enough to support a full-time center.
Stephanie Back operates a CAC in Dillsboro in southeast Indiana, with a satellite location in Madison. “The satellite in Madison has been operational since 2013 and we noticed an increase in our caseload from that area right away. In fact, the volume from our satellite doubled from 2016 to 2017,” says Back.
Back adds, “Our satellite is incredibly helpful for the children and families we serve. Prior to our satellite opening, we routinely had a lot of children who would show up hungry, tired, and grumpy from what they perceived to be such a long car ride. Our interviewers have a better rapport from the very beginning with the children and assist the investigators in obtaining the information they need.”
“CACs continue to establish themselves as pillars of their communities for the treatment and prevention of abuse and child maltreatment. These are our children we’re talking about. There will be CAC service for today’s 10,958 kids or the next 10,000 that come,” says Lutz.