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The Chester County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child-focused center that coordinates the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of child abuse while helping children heal. The CAC brings together professionals and agencies as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases. The MDT consists of members representing the District Attorney’s Office, Department of Children, Youth & Families, Law Enforcement, The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc., Chester County Juvenile Probation, Chester County Adult Probation, Department of Mental Health/Intellectual Development Disabilities, and experts in the medical field. The CAC was created to provide a private, safe, non-threatening environment to conduct interviews of child victims or witnesses.
The CAC has a private waiting area for children and those accompanying them that is child-friendly and comfortably furnished. Offenders are not permitted in this area. The CAC is designed to create a sense of safety and security for children.
There are three types.
Anyone who works with children and suspects a child is being abused is a mandated reporter. People required to report child abuse include, but are not limited to:
Mandated reporters of child abuse should call Childline (1-800-932-0313) immediately after receiving a report of child abuse or when they suspect child abuse. In the event of an emergency, a mandated reporter should contact the police.
A mandated reporter who intentionally fails to contact authorities is committing a criminal offense. Mandated reporters who, in good faith, make a report of child abuse, cooperate with an investigation, testify in court proceedings, take photographs, or remove a child to protective custody, have immunity from any civil or criminal liability.
Teachers or school administrators should document the child’s precise statements, including what was said to and by the child and school staff, the demeanor of the child, and then immediately contact law enforcement and Childline (1-800-932-0313).
Childline is a 24/7 hotline for reports of suspected child abuse. Call 1-800-932-0313.
The Chester County Department of Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) is responsible for investigating alleged child abuse reports, as mandated by the Child Protective Services Law. When CYF receives a report of child abuse, it has 24 hours to begin an investigation and to see the child. The primary responsibility of the CYF caseworker is to ensure the safety of the child or children involved and assess the potential risk of further or continued abuse. Contact CYF at 610-344-5800.
The CVC is a nonprofit agency that provides free, immediate, and confidential crisis response and compassionate support to children and adults impacted by crime and violence. The CVC provides assistance through counseling, advocacy, resources, and education. It has two 24/7 hotlines:
A forensic interviewer has received extensive training in child forensic interviewing techniques that allow for legally sound, non-duplicating, non-leading, and neutral interviews. Interviewers gather information without leading or tainting the child’s recollection.
A forensic interviewer conducts interviews at the CAC with any child under the age of 16 who is a suspected victim of neglect, physical abuse, and/or sexual abuse, or any child witness under age 16. Members of the multidisciplinary team observe forensic interviews to avoid the need for multiple interviews of the child.
When a child victim and those accompanying him/her arrive at the Chester County Justice Center, they are greeted by a Crime Victims’ Center advocate who will escort them directly to the CAC. Non-English speaking children, and their non-English speaking family members, are greeted by someone who speaks their language. A comfort dog is available to accompany any child if needed.
The CAC family room is a comfortable, child-friendly area with toys, games, coloring books, and other engaging materials. Here, the forensic interviewer introduces him/herself to the crime victim advocate, the child, and the accompanying adult or family. The forensic interviewer then takes the non-offending parent/caregiver into the interview room to explain the forensic interview process. When the non-offending parent/caregiver leaves the interview room, the forensic interviewer escorts the child in.
The forensic interview room is equipped with digital recording devices, a SMART Board, and anatomically correct drawings and dolls. The number of people in the interview room is limited to make the child feel more comfortable. If a crime victim advocate is requested, the advocate may be present during the interview.
When the interview is complete, the forensic interviewer takes the child to the waiting room to be reunited with the non-offending parent/caregiver.
Members of the MDT include, but are not limited to:
MDT members meet monthly to review cases and determine if additional resources are needed, such as investigative, medical, or mental health services. MDT members also discuss language and cultural concerns.
Due to the high level of security within the Justice Center, individuals in custody are not exposed to the general public. Designated hallways and elevators are used to transport these individuals from location to location within the Justice Center, reducing the possibility of a child seeing or being exposed to possible offenders.
All entry points to the CAC are locked with badge-authorized access only.
Families are referred to the Crime Victims’ Center (CVC) for initial services. The CVC offers individual and group counseling for victims of crime at no cost. The CVC also provides off-site counseling in Oxford, Phoenixville, Kennett Square, Coatesville, and several schools in the community.
Another available resource is the Chester County Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Department, which oversees publicly funded mental health services for children and adults, including those on medical assistance and without insurance. In Pennsylvania, any child with a disability qualifies for medical assistance regardless of parental income.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children who are victims of abuse receive a medical examination.
There are two types of medical exams given to children who are victims of sexual abuse.
A non-acute forensic medical exam is similar to a regular well-child visit your child has with their pediatrician, assessing the child from head-to-toe. The exam’s purpose is to assess and identify injuries and allow parents and children to discuss any concerns they may have with the specialist. The medical provider(s) are experts with advanced training in identifying possible findings related to child maltreatment.
A non-acute forensic examination also includes a genital exam, which will differ for boys and girls and their sexual maturity. The medical provider will speak with you and your child in more detail about the type of genital examination that may be performed and its purpose.
Lab work and radiology tests may also be done.
An acute forensic medical exam is the same as a non-acute forensic exam, except it is recommended for children who have been sexually abused or assaulted within the past 120 hours (5 days) and is performed in a hospital’s emergency room. It may involve the collection of evidence.
Most of the local hospitals in Chester County will not examine children suspected of sexual abuse who have not reached puberty. The CAC is located near two children’s hospitals with nationally recognized doctors who specialize in child abuse.
The criminal justice system can be confusing to victims and their families. Members of the MDT are always happy to answer questions you may have. The Flowchart of the Criminal Justice System and these nine steps may help clarify the process.
While not every case will move forward through the criminal justice system, MDT members work hard to achieve the best outcome, keeping your child’s well-being a priority.
The District Attorney’s Office offers a free virtual workshop called Stewards of Children. Stewards of Children is a child sexual abuse training program that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. For more information, contact Stewards of Children County Coordinator Elisa Mendoza at [email protected] or 610-344-5576.