Southmountain Children and Family Services operates and manages ten Children's Advocacy Centers in sixteen North Carolina counties.
All are designed to minimize trauma to children and their non-offending family members resulting from child physical or sexual abuse, to advocate for and support child victims and their non-offending family members and to enhance the legal process in achieving optimal criminal prosecutions.
Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC) coordinate the efforts of the various agencies that intercede in child abuse cases such as social services, law enforcement, district attorney and mental health providers. We call this collaboration our multidisciplinary team. Without such collaboration, child victims endure multiple interviews by different professionals. Within the child-friendly atmosphere of each CAC, our highly trained forensic interviewer conducts (and records) a professional forensic interview. In addition, a medical provider who is specifically trained in abuse examinations conducts a forensic medical exam on-site eliminating the need for an emergency room visit.
The multidisciplinary team, reviews active cases on at least a bi-weekly basis. In addition to gleaning information to prosecute the perpetrator in the case, the team also works to ensure that the victims and their families get assistance with other treatments and services as needed.
“A person can never be prepared for the day their child reveals they have been sexually abused. Unfortunately, I was faced with that day last year.” These are the words of the mother of a young child seen at one of our Children’s Advocacy Centers. “The whole ordeal was so traumatic,” said another mother. “I don’t know what we would have done without the Children’s Advocacy Center.”
History of Southmountain’s Children Advocacy Centers
In 1998 Southmountain Children and Family Services established its first Children's Advocacy Center in Morganton, NC, which was only the sixth CAC in the State. After learning about the effectiveness of the CAC model created in 1985 in Huntsville, AL by District Attorney Bud Cramer, Jr. (former US congressmen), Southmountain Administrator Chris Jernigan decided it was a perfect fit for the Agency’s mission.
Southmountain Children and Family Services opened its first Children’s Advocacy Center in 1998 located in Burke County better known as the Gingerbread House. After overwhelming response and utilization of this excellent service, Southmountain committed to expanding this service to neighboring communities.
The McDowell County Children's Advocacy Center was opened in 2009, locally known as Lily’s House. In 2011 Southmountain Children and Family Services opened the doors of The Children’s Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge serving Watauga and Avery Counties. 2013 saw the opening of The Children's Advocacy Center of the Toe River and soon after (2018) the Transylvania County Children’s Advocacy Center was established. In 2019 the Moore County Children's Advocacy Center, Harnett County Children’s Advocacy Center and Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson Counties Children’s Advocacy Centers were added. Even through a global pandemic, two additional centers were successfully established: the Carteret County Children’s Advocacy Center and the Craven and Pamlico Counties Children’s Advocacy Center.
Measuring our Success
The success of the Children’s Advocacy Centers has been evident since their beginning in 1998. Thousands of children have been interviewed and examined at the centers and their families have found healing, comfort, and satisfaction in the services provided to them. Many perpetrators have been taken off the streets as a direct result of the quality work of the multidisciplinary team – some serving multiple prison sentences and others receiving treatment. Child abuse education programs have also been offered by team members and they, along with the Center, have played an important role in child abuse prevention in Western North Carolina.
The services offered at the Children’s Advocacy Centers, like the services in the foster community, are hard to measure in terms of quantifiable outcomes. But, to the children and families who have found themselves caught up in the nightmare of child abuse, they are safe, friendly places where the nightmare ends and the road to successful recovery begins.
A forensic interview is a neutral, fact-finding interview that is legally defensible in court. The interviewer is a highly trained professional who interviews children to help authorities and partner agencies determine if they have been physically/sexually abused. In addition to yielding information on whether abuse has occurred, this approach produces evidence that will stand up in court if the investigation leads to criminal prosecution. Forensic interviews are legally sound because they ensure the interviewer's objectivity, employ non-leading techniques and emphasize accurate documentation of the interview via video recording.
Forensic Medical Examination
Forensic medical examinations are performed by a licensed medical professional, certified in conducting pediatric and adolescent sexual assault exams. Medical examinations of our child clients include wellness exams, testing for STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) when appropriate and specific exam techniques for alleged sexual assaults. Our medical provider is available to testify in court when necessary. What an incredible blessing it is to be able to treat children in our child-friendly medical exam room instead of a hospital environment.
Mental Health Counseling Services
Therapists at Southmountain Children and Family Services work in conjunction with the CAC to provide Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Extensive research has shown that TF-CBT is the gold standard in treatment for childhood trauma and traumatic grief. This treatment is consistently effective in reducing children's traumatic symptoms as well as symptoms of depression and behavioral problems.
Multi-Disciplinary Team and Case Review
The multi-disciplinary team (MDT) is key to the CAC and includes members from law enforcement, child protective services, district attorney's office, medical professionals and mental health therapists. The MDT meets at least monthly to review and discuss cases that involve child abuse and neglect. The primary objective of the MDT is to focus at all times on the well-being of the child victim and avoid any unnecessary trauma to the child and their non-offending caretaker.