Giving Back with Children’s Advocacy Center
By Ann Smith
When a child discloses abuse, the Children’s Advocacy Center is there to help. As a multidisciplinary team, the CAC staff works with law enforcement, medical professionals, child protective services and the prosecutor’s office. The services provided always are free throughout the duration of each case, which sometimes last for years. The Holland-based CAC sees 350 to 400 new cases each year, most from Ottawa County.
Meet Andrea Torres, events and volunteer coordinator at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
Q: What need for your services exists in Ottawa County?
A: Current statistics show that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In perspective, that equals two children per classroom.
Q: How do families find you?
A: The CAC receives referrals from law enforcement or child protective services of cases involving child sexual abuse, witnessing of violence and child sex trafficking.
Q: How does the CAC respond?
A: The CAC’s mission is to provide child-centered prevention, advocacy and team intervention in investigation, assessment and treatment of child sexual abuse inclusive of all children and families. We believe no one should have to go it alone. They should have a team on their side. The individuals who work here are caring, kind, passionate, listening and wonderful.
CAC staff conduct forensic interviews to assess the possibility of abuse, and to assess what services the survivor and supportive family may need. Forensic interviews are designed to gather the facts from a child in a manner that is developmentally appropriate, safe, and comfortable for the child and family. CAC’s other services include therapy, medical exams, court preparation, victim advocacy and prevention programs. Our multidisciplinary team works together to make all of this happen every single day. We are the only program in Ottawa County that provides this array of services free and in collaboration with law enforcement, child protective services and the prosecutor’s office.
Q: How can volunteers support your work?
A: Our Dream Team program allows you to be a part of a powerful ongoing group of supporters. Each member or group pledges to raise $1,000 over the course of a year through their own fundraising efforts, with the full support of our events team.
We have many other volunteer opportunities: stepping into the office each week for front desk support, being a part of our Kids Have Rights program, working on one-time community or group projects, facility maintenance and our Care Closet support team.
Q: How can people participate in your prevention programs, and are there steps they should take proactively?
A: We provide body safety presentations to over 20,000 kids each year in kindergarten to grade 4. To attend our adult trainings on how to recognize, respond to, and report abuse, please visit our website events calendar to learn about upcoming training opportunities.
We have 3 top recommendations for adult caregivers.
1. Please teach children the proper names for all of their body parts.
2. Teach them respect for their own and others’ bodies.
3. Do not force children to kiss, hug or sit on the laps of other people — even close relatives — if they ever feel uncomfortable doing so. Let the choice be theirs.