I may live in a city, but I'm a small town girl. My childhood home was on a dirt road in one of the most impoverished counties in the country. When my daughter was five, we visited and she looked at the old barns and irrigation canals where we used to play and asked, “were you poor?” I told her we had everything we needed—not just because we did, but because I grew up with a complete sense of security. Back then, I couldn't imagine how someone could intentionally hurt a child. Today, I do what I do because that sense of well-being is the experience every child deserves.
Back then, I also learned to “just make do," as my grandma would say, and that has served me well in my career. Professionals in this field are resourceful and creative, and they must make the most of every asset, such as the National Children’s Alliance, a leader and champion for children and service providers alike.
How does Utah’s legislature measure how well our centers are serving kids and families? Our lawmakers use NCA’s Outcome Measurement System that collects feedback from parents and partners to grade our response. How do we ensure our CACs deliver services with quality and consistency? We rely on NCA’s Standards for Accredited Members. And how do we actually improve our services? We work with NCA on projects that sharpen our skills, like our partnership with Yale University to implement cutting-edge mental health services scientifically proven to heal kids from trauma. NCA’s work is woven so deeply through the response to child abuse, both here in Utah and across the country, that we literally couldn’t do our work without it.
In October, thanks to an NCA grant, a team that serves part of the Navajo Nation received customized training. That team is in my beloved home county. I know firsthand the barriers facing families and the professionals who want to help them. Some residents don't have electricity or running water. Many have no transportation. While our CACs can’t solve many of the problems communities face, we can provide the best care possible for children when they need it most. Therein lies the beauty of this movement. Whether you’re a community of 1,000 or 1 million, NCA leads and supports us all to ensure that every child has the services they need in their darkest hour.
Grants and training may be the "what" of much of our work, but they are not the "why." The kids are the why....kids like the ten year old girl we'll call Rachel, who was experiencing severe behavior problems. She was destroying her home, ripping curtains down, full of rage, seemingly for no reason. Her parents were heartbroken. They wanted to help, but no one could figure out why she was hurting so much. One day, while curled up in a ball on the floor, she told her parents “I’m broken and I can’t be fixed.” Her grandpa, who should have protected her, had been sexually abusing her.
They immediately sought help and at the center, Rachel not only got mental health treatment to heal the trauma; she also saw a CAC doctor, who assured her she was not broken at all—she was a healthy little girl. Her grandfather may have been a powerful man in her community, but in that visit to the CAC, she found her own power—because the community, through the CAC, believed her, and believed in her. She got justice and healing, and her parents got their daughter back.
When I think about the many Rachels I've seen in the 25 years since visiting my first CAC, I can't imagine doing anything else. I am supported by an army of experienced colleagues, many of whom are dear friends. I am championed by an organization wholly dedicated to facilitating justice and healing for victims, one that is ever evolving to better serve us so that we may better serve children. I would call that a rich life. Above all, every day I know there are children who visit a center and learn that they don’t have to shoulder their burdens alone anymore. Hopefully, they leave with some of that weight lifted, knowing there are people to help them reclaim their lives and get back to the business of just being a kid. And that? That is priceless.
Tracey Tabet has been with the Attorney General’s Office since 1994 and is the administrator for the Utah Children’s Justice Center (CJC) Program, where she oversees the state’s 23 Children’s Justice Centers and serves as the director of the Utah Chapter of NCA.