Listen Deeper, and Act on What You Hear
Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) work through the strength of partnership—no single professional or agency can counter child abuse on their own, and survivors need and deserve support when abuse comes to light. Being a good partner means being a good active listener, and active listening is the main medium in which CACs do their work. Forensic interviewers actively listen to children’s stories and help the multidisciplinary team (MDT) ask the questions they need to help an individual child. Advocates speak with families’ and listen for opportunities to meet their needs (safety, housing, transportation, etc.) so that they can focus on healing. CACs, overall, listen to their MDTs and communities to identify what is needed to keep kids safe and hold offenders accountable. But while active listening is at the heart of our model, it is easy to get swept up in it and miss our chance for reflective listening. In addition to asking our families and teams what they need from us in the moment, we must also ask them how well we are meeting their needs.
Fortunately, CACs have a nationally supported tool for inviting feedback from our families and MDTs—the Outcome Measurement System (OMS). NCA provides standardized surveys and reporting dashboards in a centralized online system accessible to CAC members, State Chapters, and Regionals. OMS equips CACs to evaluate their work through surveys for two important groups served by CACs: of the caregivers who bring their children to us and the MDT members we partner with in delivering that care. Survey questions are not just about what people need from the CAC but also about how we delivered on those needs and how we can make it better. While we do check in with families and teammates about their experience throughout their time with us, the structured approach of surveys invites direct input into our operations in a way that can be understood and strategically addressed. Finding trends in experiences is nearly impossible in the midst of the white noise of day-to-day active listening, but themes emerge when we put stories together from survey responses. Approaching families’ and team members’ feedback with curiosity, holding a mirror to the work we do, and being willing to celebrate the good and address the difficult demonstrates our commitment to being true partners in the community response to child abuse.
As both a network and as individual programs, OMS data is central to CAC practice here at West Virginia Child Advocacy Network (WVCAN). At the State Chapter level, we use the insights from OMS to steer where we are going as a network and look for opportunities to make broad statewide impacts to how children, families, and MDTs experience our care. Similarly, individual CACs in West Virginia have found OMS useful as a benchmark for growth and program development when writing grants. WVCAN always uses a CAC’s OMS data when conducting MDT trainings, strategic planning, or other specialized training or strategizing at the local level. We also use OMS to share the message of CACs in a compelling way to a broad audience. The fact that CACs served one in every 100 WV children as a new client last year is all the more significant when we can also share that 99 percent of their surveyed caregivers agreed that “if they knew anyone else who was dealing with a situation like theirs, they’d tell them about the CAC.”
It is rare in this field that we find tools with the “bang for your buck” value of OMS. As a free benefit to NCA members, the cost to use OMS is negligible. The time commitment, too, is light and could be managed by volunteers and interns. When I am working with a CAC that is still concerned about the time and effort they can commit to OMS, I invite them to start small. What could you learn from your families in six months if you could commit to using only one of the surveys available to you? What opportunities to make an impact could we miss if we don’t have a way to spot shared themes in families’ experiences? When we make the space for reflective listening, and commit to acting on what we hear, we make a greater difference in the lives of children and their families visiting a CAC.
Measuring CAC outcomes
NCA’s Outcome Measurement System (OMS) provides tools to define our success as a field in serving children, families, and professionals, while helping individual CACs collect local feedback and benchmark their progress against the work of a nationwide movement.
Caitlin Smith came to West Virginia Child Advocacy Network (WVCAN) as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) in 2011. As a W.Va. native drawn to protect the next generation, she stayed on to direct WV-CHAMP, WVCAN’s medical initiative to improve the state’s medical response to child abuse. Now, as the program services specialist, Caitlin’s leadership ranges from heading up WV-CHAMP to staffing special projects and training. Her passion for using research, data, and partner collaboration to improve the care for children and their families is powerful, and changing the way WVCAN and its CACs operate for good.