Spotlight on Success: The Baltimore Child Abuse Center

photo: 7-8 year old boy sitting with his head downEvery year, thousands of children and adolescents in the United States are impacted by sexual abuse. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most comprehensive nationwide survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence to date. The data found that 6.1 percent of all children surveyed had been sexually victimized in the past year, and 9.8 percent had been sexually victimized over their lifetimes.1 In 2010, of the more than 266,000 children served by Children’s Advocacy Centers around the country, 184,087 children reported sexual abuse, 44,029 children reported physical abuse, and 101,831 of these children were ages 0 to 6 years. In 2010, of the more than 212,000 alleged offenders investigated for instances of child abuse, 81,123 were a parent or step-parent of the victim and 44,796 were related to the child victim in another way.2

Child sexual abuse is not an issue that can be addressed by any one discipline, nor is it the domain of any one system. Community policing, recognizing that police rarely can solve public safety problems alone, encourages interactive partnerships with relevant stakeholders to address the proliferation of child sexual abuse. Police, often as first responders to a child sexual abuse report, can play a vital role in the lives of child victims and their families by increasing access to services through partnerships with child-focused, facility-based Children’s Advocacy Centers.

First developed in the 1980s, Children’s Advocacy Centers were designed to reduce the stress on child abuse victims and families caused by traditional child abuse investigation and prosecution procedures and to improve the effectiveness of the response. Additionally, through the use of multidisciplinary teams of professionals, they focus on the coordination of investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases. A recent comparison study documented that Children’s Advocacy Centers are more likely to have coordinated case investigation and to involve the police; children were more likely to receive referrals for forensic medical evaluations and mental health services; and the children themselves reported feeling less scared during the interviewing.3 4 One such example of a highly successful Children’s Advocacy Center is the Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC).

Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC)

In 1987, the BCAC opened in response to the growing awareness that children who had been sexually abused were not only victims by the acts that had been done to them, but were then re-victimized by a lengthy and often repetitive investigative process. The BCAC is a private, non-profit 501(c)3 and is an accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance and the Maryland Children’s Alliance. Named “The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Center for Children,” the BCAC headquarters house a forensic medical clinic, specially equipped interview rooms, and permanent offices for the Baltimore Police, Department of Social Services, and State’s Attorneys, as well as important space for future growth, training, and educational programs.

The mission of the BCAC is to provide all reported victims of child sexual abuse in Baltimore City, and their non-offending caretakers, with interviews, medical treatment, referrals and/or crisis counseling in a supportive, child-friendly setting. From July 2010 to June 2011, BCAC provided 887 children with forensic interviews and risk assessments; this represents a 9.7 percent increase over the prior year. BCAC’s on-site medical clinic also conducted 378 medical examinations, a 23.5 percent increase. Additionally, the Family Advocate Service Team (FAST) provided 310 children and 139 caregivers with referrals for ongoing mental health services and the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) conducted case review for 148 high risk cases, creating specialized treatment plans and following up with families to ensure that a connection to treatment was made.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Children Advocacy Center’s multidisciplinary teams typically consist of law enforcement officers, child protective services investigators, prosecutors, and mental health and medical professionals who work together in the investigation, treatment, management, and prosecution of child abuse cases.5 The BCAC multidisciplinary approach includes:

  • Scheduling interviews with the children and their parents/caretakers and coordinating with the Baltimore City Police, the State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore City, and Child Protective Services.
  • Social workers or psychologists interviewing the children, with representatives from Child Protective Services, Baltimore City Police, and/or the City’s State’s Attorney’s Office observing via closed circuit television.
  • Pediatricians providing forensic medical examinations to check for signs of sexual abuse, as well as providing “well child” physical exams.
  • Working with Child Protective Services to develop plans aimed at keeping children safe from future abuse.
  • Testifying in court cases that go to prosecution.
  • Providing case management and offering therapy and educational programming onsite as well as in partnership with local health providers.

Innovative Programs

Children’s Advocacy Centers intervene at the level of individual children and families, but they also help their communities as a whole. Recognizing that children alone cannot protect themselves from abuse, BCAC promotes prevention through a public education campaign to alert parents and caretakers to the fact that sexual abuse is typically perpetrated by someone the child knows, not by a stranger. Their prevention program focuses on educating adults on ways they can better protect their children from sexual predators and works with families where abuse has already occurred to strengthen their ability to keep their children safer in the future. From July 2010 to June 2011, 320 children received prevention education through the Safe Kids Club curriculum developed by BCAC and the No More Stolen Childhoods Foundation, and 3,085 teachers, parents, and child welfare professionals received prevention awareness education.

Additional innovative programs and services provided by the BCAC include:

  • Free workshops, presentations, and trainings in English and Spanish, designed to educate parents, teachers, staff, students, and professionals of all backgrounds.
  • D.I.V.A.S. (Develop Inner Value to Acquire Success) provides essential support to teenage girls (13–17) who have been victims of trauma, with the goal of improving communication skills, building self-esteem, and resolving conflict in an acceptable manner.
  • Kelly, a specially trained Labrador/golden retriever service dog, served as a source of comfort for children during the interview process at the center. At the time of this article, the canine program was no longer available due to lack of funding.
  • The Safe Kid Club provides a personal safety curriculum for elementary school students.
  • Specific programs benefiting adults, including Parents Against Child Abuse (PACA), the Prevention Awareness Community Education (P.A.C.E.) program, Responding to Child Sexual Abuse, Care for Kids, Nurturing Healthy Sexual Development, and Sexual Abuse Free Environment for Teens (SAFE-T).
  • An innovative prevention campaign that led to the BCAC being one of five charities selected to present their “Big Idea” to the Chase Giving Advising Board in June 2011.
  • Increasing community awareness and education through the creation of a Speaker’s Bureau, in which members of the community can volunteer their time to be trained speakers on behalf of the BCAC.

The BCAC is committed to ending child sexual abuse in Maryland. Through the coordination of the Baltimore City Police, Child Protective Services, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, and their own interview and treatment staff, they ensure that their families have everything they need to help them cope with the trauma of abuse. For more information about the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, contact: Adam Rosenberg, Esq., Executive Director, 410-396-6147, arosenberg@bcaci.org, www.BaltimoreChildAbuseCenter.org.

-Cynthia E. Pappas
Senior Social Science Analyst
The COPS Office

 

1 Finkelhor, D., H. Turner, R. Ormrod, S. Hamby, and K. Kracker. 2009. “Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. October.

2 http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/NCANationalStatistics

3 Cross, T. P., L. M. Jones, M. S. Walsh, D. J. Kolko, J. Szczepanski, T. Lippert, K. Davidson, A. Cryns, P. Sosnowski, A. Shadoin, and S. Magnuson. 2008. Evaluating Children’s Advocacy Centers’ Response to Child Sexual Abuse. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin, August.

4 Wolfteich, P., and B. Loggins. 2007. Evaluation of the children’s advocacy center model:
Efficiency, legal and revictimization outcomes. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 24(4):333–352.

5 Cross, T. P., L. M. Jones, M. S. Walsh, D. J. Kolko, J. Szczepanski, T. Lippert, K. Davidson, A. Cryns, P. Sosnowski, A. Shadoin, and S. Magnuson. 2008. Evaluating Children’s Advocacy Centers’ Response to Child Sexual Abuse. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin, August.

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