Open Accessibility Menu

Helping victims in a child-focused, compassionate environment

Published in Inside CentraCare Author: Katie Boecker, MS, LSW, LMFT

Editor’s Note: Katie Boecker, MS, LSW, LMFT, is the manager of the Central Minnesota Child Advocacy Center. The center is one of approximately 950 across the country that have been designed to help victims of child abuse tell their story in a compassionate environment — while also receiving comprehensive care.

Katie recently was interviewed on WJON radio to talk about the Child Advocacy Center, its goal in working with children and families, and why it needs the support of the community. The Child Advocacy Center also is the beneficiary of this year’s CentraCare Health Community Campaign, which runs through Dec. 31.

An excerpt of Katie’s interview is below. Listen to the interview now.

Q: What is the Child Advocacy Center?

Katie: To understand what a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is, it is important to understand what it was like before we had a CAC in our community. Child abuse victims and their families were bounced from one agency to another for the purpose of the investigation. Children would be asked to repeat their story to multiple professionals, which would often retraumatize the children and could result in feeling that no one is believing them. If there was a medical exam needed, they would often be given a referral to travel to the metro area to retell their story and complete their exam.

A Child Advocacy Center provides a child-focused and child-friendly environment that brings together community partners such as law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, advocacy, medical and mental health. The child comes to the CAC and the system comes to the child. The primary goal of a child advocacy center is to ensure that children are not further victimized by the system that was designed to protect them.

Q: What is the process when a child comes into your facility?

Katie: When a child is scheduled to come into the Child Advocacy Center, our advocate will call the family ahead of time to help answer their questions they may have. A lot of time the families do have questions, as they may feel scared and they don’t know what to expect.

When they arrive, they are greeted by our staff. We aim to be a child-friendly environment, including a rain forest theme in our lobby. They are greeted by the forensic interviewer, the one person who the child talks to and shares their story. The goal is to build rapport and get to know the child. A lot of time it takes a lot of courage for a child to share details about their abuse. While they share their story, a team of professionals such as law enforcement, child protection and prosecutors are watching the interview in a separate room to get the information they may need. If they are needing additional information, the observing team sends the question via an Apple watch. This approach reduces the amount of times the child needs to be re-interviewed.

We also know that child abuse impacts the family. While the child is in the interview, our advocate will meet with the non-offending caregiver(s) to support them and connect them with community resources, such as individual or family therapy.

We are fortunate to provide medical exams onsite at our CAC. We offer a medical exam to all children served at the CAC, with no cost to the family. The medical exam can be to collect any possible evidence and to ensure the health and well-being of the child.

When a child comes to the CAC, they may be here for two or three hours. When the child leaves the center, our hope is they felt we listened to them, we believed them and we’re here to help them through the healing process.

Our advocate continues to follow-up with families beyond the time of the interview. Sometimes cases can take a year or two to work their way through the legal system. Again, the main goal is to focus on the healing of the child, not only the investigation.

Q: How many children have been seen at the Child Advocacy Center since you have opened?

Katie: We have been open for a little over two years, serving Stearns and Benton County. We have served around 475 children during this time. Eighty of them have been under age 3. We also complete foster care exams for children placed in out-of-home care.

Q: How is the Child Advocacy Center funded?

Katie: The CAC is funded by grants, donations and a small amount from insurance. Our services are at no charge to the family as this can be an additional stressor for families.

When we started, we didn’t know how much of a demand and need there is in our community. Sadly, child abuse happens every day all around us. We started with just a few staff and currently we’re up to five full-time and three part-time staff. Our expenses are about $600,000 per year. We get about $250,000 in grants and donations.

We are fortunate that CentraCare chose the Child Advocacy Center to be the beneficiary of this year’s Employee campaign, which raised $480,000! The CAC also was chosen for the Community Campaign, which runs through Dec. 31. Boser Construction has offered to match all gifts up to $100,000 and we are very grateful for their support. We are hoping through CentraCare and the community’s support, we will be able to sustain the Child Advocacy Center.

Learn more and donate now to the CAC through the CentraCare Health Foundation Community Campaign.