Our Role at the Local Child Advocacy Center
October 7, 2022
Bianca Hernandez, Community Engagement Specialist
One evening, 5 year old “Adrian” explained to his mother, Sarah, that something strange had happened to him while at his summer daycare that he attended at his next door neighbor’s home. His mother listened as Adrian recounted how at his daycare an adult made him feel uncomfortable with what he was saying and also doing to him. Sarah listened in disbelief and reported it right away to local law enforcement, since what Adrian was recounting sounded a lot like child abuse. Adrian was scared when he found out he would have to make a visit to an office at a hospital. His mom explained it would be okay and that all the people at this place called the ACAC are super proud of him for telling a trusted adult about what was going on. Adrian is a brave child just like many others who come for a forensic interview at the Sally P. Archer Child Advocacy Center, also known as the ACAC, inside the Natividad Medical Center. Adrian’s name and story have been made up for the purposes of this post, and although it’s a hypothetical story, it highlights the experiences of so many child abuse survivors that we encounter.
The ACAC is intended to provide a survivor centered, facility-based program in which members of a multidisciplinary team collaborate, coordinate, and facilitate a comprehensive response to abuse and neglect, conduct forensic interviews, forensic medical exams, and provide victims and their families/caregivers with access to mental health and advocacy services. The multidisciplinary team at the ACAC can be comprised of child interview specialists, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) or forensic nurse, law enforcement, social workers, therapists, and advocates from the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center (MCRCC). All forensic interviews for children are done at the ACAC by a child interview specialist, who is trained to conduct interviews with small children, teens, children with disabilities, Spanish speaking children, and just about any other population of children. Adrian would be in a room with just himself and the interviewer; the room is bright with a small table for children, coloring books, games, stuffed animals, and a large gifting cabinet. This space is meant to be relaxing and inviting for children big and small. This forensic interview is meant for children to only recount their abuse one time to have as minimal trauma added as possible. These interviews take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours and that is because the interviewer moves at the child's pace and also respects the child's wishes around disclosing information.
At the ACAC we hold a designated space for sexual assault exams to be conducted as well. When an exam is activated, a Sexual Assault Response Team, otherwise know as SART, will respond quickly. A SART is a multidisciplinary response to sexual assault cases which can inlcude SANE or forensic nurse, law enforcement, and an advocate from MCRCC. At the ACAC, the SART work together and each performs its duty of either collecting evidence from microscopic injuries, conducting an interview with minimal added trauma or helping to connect the survivor and their family to different community services. The ACAC is a safe place for survivors, and at no time are suspects allowed for any reason.
The Sally P. Archer Child Advocacy Center and Bates Eldredge Clinic is an accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance and currently the only child advocacy center serving all of Monterey County. The ACAC is located at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. Overall, the ACAC is a safe place for survivors, big and small, to feel safe, feel validated, and receive the support they need. MCRCC will continue to be here at the ACAC day and night if this is something a survivor feels comfortable with.