What Even *is* a Child Advocacy Center? As Told by College Intern Rylie Steppick
“Oh, I’ve been interning at the Child Advocacy Center!”
I’ve said this sentence so many times recently, you’d think it was a lyric to the song of the summer. The automatic response is just as frequent. A kind, but confused face. Unsure of what to say or ask, the person I’m speaking to usually just nods, eyebrows scrunched together.
The truth is, before walking in the door back in June, I didn’t know what a Child Advocacy Center did, either. In passing I’d seen an event page or a poster for an event that would benefit the center, and as a teacher my mom had had kids that went through the center. Walking in, I expected a drab, government-funded building with old people and really harsh lighting. I walked into this-
As you can see, this is NOT what I had expected. Colors seemed to bounce off the walls. There was laughter! I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. Immediately I was introduced to the office staff, a.k.a. the goofiest people you will ever meet. Along with my human co-workers I also met the therapy dogs that work at the CAC.
What the Child Advocacy Center Does:
The Center has been open since 1998, and has been serving child victims of Johnson County since that time. The center provides a multi-disciplinary team approach for those child victims that have suffered sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, witnessed a homicide or violent crime or have been found in dangerous drug environments.
This multiple-disciplinary team or MDT approach to these very difficult cases allows us work the case from start to finish without fear of the case falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. All cases that come through the center are referred by law enforcement or Child Protective Services. When a case is referred the child involved is provided a professional forensic interview and a team approach to their investigation that allows team members to make immediate decisions on safety plans, search warrants, arrest warrants, medical referrals, and resource referrals.
Families referred have immediate access to services at the center that include forensic interviews, crisis intervention, individual, family and group counseling, work with our K-9 Child Advocate and amazing Therapy Dogs, personal advocacy and support, assistance with resource referrals that might include finding emergency shelter, help with groceries, utility bills, medical assistance, finding a job, court school and court accompaniment and overall helping to keep the family supported through this very difficult process.
Our Mission: Johnson County Children’s Advocacy Center provides each child who has suffered abuse with justice, hope and healing.
Personally, I spent the summer learning about child advocacy and contributing to communication efforts. I consulted the staff about social media, community outreach, and overall strategies to make the center more accessible. They graciously allowed me to learn about the advocacy process, and even allowed me to sit in on forensic interviews so I could see how law enforcement and Child Protective Services and the Child Advocacy Center work together and utilize their community. Their “Circle of Protection” includes everything from C.A.R.E. Team at Cook’s Children’s to the District & County Prosecutors Office.
The Children’s Advocacy Center isn’t a place of mourning or sadness. Our hearts break for these children but we don’t lose sight of the fact that these children are here. Here they are safe with us. They’re getting the help they need, and will be able to heal. We stand by the families in crisis, and most importantly, we advocate for them.
Advocate n. (according to Merriam-Webster)
1: one who pleads the cause of another; specifically: one who pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court
2: one who defends or maintains a cause or proposal
3: one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group
To SUPPORT, UPHOLD… BACK, CHAMPION… to favor actively one that meets opposition.
What I took away from these experiences was that I will never be content unless the cause I pour out my mind and resources out for is a meaningful one. For me, that means that I will most likely end up in the non-profit sector. Seeing the way these people love the kids here, each other, and the work that they do, it will be very hard to try to walk into a corporation where the “bottom line” is the top priority.
And now the summer draws to a close. The interns at the center are cleaning out their offices. The last of their clients are coming through, and the staff is once again saying goodbye. The kids’ conversations are starting to lean toward school talk, and I’m preparing to go back to school myself. I’ve learned about work friends, and how to be the “new girl.”
This has really been the first opportunity I’ve had to embrace the fact that I might end up doing similar work for the rest of my life…and it’s not scaring me.
And I think that’s the best thing a summer internship can do for you. Help you fall in love with your life’s work. Luckily for me, the work here is pretty adorable.