The Business of Child Advocacy

Strengthening the Heartbeat of CACs

The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) movement is, in some ways, feeling those awful pangs of aging not unlike what we as humans inevitably experience over time. (Admittedly, this might be a factor of my own advancing age!) As young kids our parents make sure we stay healthy—eat our vegetables, drink our milk, get plenty of sleep, etc. But then we reach our teens and 20s and even into our 30s, and what’s happening “on the inside” often takes a back seat as we focus on our appearance – our faces, our hair, our shape and muscle tone. We don’t talk—nor have to worry much—about how things are going on the inside. We’re young and strong and seemingly invincible. But then we reach middle age and beyond and suddenly the conversation shifts back to “staying healthy.” We talk about cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings, bone strength and vital signs. We begin to realize that if we don’t tend to those core health issues, it really doesn’t matter how good we might “look” on the outside. The signs and symptoms, well, they just can’t be ignored any longer.

And so it seems in the CAC movement of late. In the early years we focused first and foremost on the team response. We were intentional about cultivating strong relationships with our partner agencies and addressing the evolving needs these child abuse professionals exhibited in their efforts to protect and provide for child abuse victims and their families. Over time, we shifted our focus to building bigger, more beautiful facilities and adding new services and launching extensive community outreach initiatives. These were all important and impressive initiatives that allowed us to become even more effective in achieving our unique mission. However, now we’re realizing that, our very “heart” —the multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach always at the core of this model—is beginning to show some worrisome signs and symptoms: shallow, peripheral team member relationships, inconsistent coordination of case activities, inability to engage in the kind of healthy conflict so critical to finding the best possible solutions for these kids and these cases, an absence of true commitment and fidelity to shared protocols, waning participation in collaborative team meetings, and other critical problems.

The good news, however, is that—like the human body—the CAC model is proving to be highly responsive to common-sense, healthy practices. Leaders in our movement are engaging our partners in stress tests (difficult conversations), monitoring key indicators, analyzing the data, dedicating resources to keeping a finger on the pulse of these vital team relationships and implementing strategies designed to strengthen and sustain our MDTs. The even better news is that the CAC model is something that can continue to grow, evolve, and live on. We have built an institution that helps communities respond to allegations of child abuse, and institutions can and should outlive their architects.

As Baby Boomers everywhere have recently come to realize: we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and we’ve got important work that still needs to be done. By re-instituting the practices that served us well in our early years, by making “heart” health a top priority—and continually refreshing the system with the new blood that will respond to the needs of generations yet unborn—the CAC/MDT model can and will live indefinitely, filled with real opportunities to forever change the outcomes for these kids and these cases.

Cathy Crabtree, currently a consultant in Austin, Texas, is a former CAC and Chapter Director and the former Director of Chapter Development for NCA who has worked with hundreds of CACs and MDTs over the course of the past 25 years.