Throughout history, people have chosen to act on behalf of or in support of another, whether formally or informally. As defined in the Oxford Languages dictionary, an advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy,” or “a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.” Synonyms of the word advocate include champion, supporter, and proponent.
The children’s advocacy center (CAC) model was developed with key disciplines of law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, medical and mental health coming together through a multidisciplinary response to child abuse. As the model evolved, the role of the victim advocate was recognized as an essential member on the multi-disciplinary team (MDT); victim advocates became and continue to be an important and valuable part of the model as champions and supporters of child victims of abuse. In the 2017 edition of the Standards for Accreditation, the National Children’s Alliance added core training and continuing education requirements for victim advocates, which further elevated and professionalized their role on the MDT.
Working within a CAC setting, victim advocates provide key support directly to child victims. For example, they ensure a child-friendly setting, are attuned to the impact of and responses to trauma in children, and are skilled with trauma-informed tools, such as offering age-appropriate choices to the child while at the center. In addressing the direct needs of a child victim, the advocate undoubtedly has a powerful influence on the overall well-being of the child.
However, there is also a clear expectation that victim advocates will also interact with and support child victims’ supportive caregivers. Research underscores the tremendous value that victim advocates can provide to a child victim of abuse by assisting and engaging the child’s caregiver on behalf of their child. For example, supportive responses by caregivers have been shown to mitigate the level of psychological symptoms experienced by their child, reduce the child’s level of distress, and help the child navigate the investigation and treatment processes. (To further explore research in the area of caregiver support, see the National Children’s Advocacy Center bibliography, “Caregivers of Abused Children” and access full research articles at CALiO.) The work of victim advocates builds from an understanding that the supportive response of a caregiver is a protective factor and that as support to caregivers increases, the likelihood of disclosure increases and the likelihood of a child healing increases as well.
WRCAC recently launched “The Advocate’s Role in the Multidisciplinary Response to Child Abuse,” a 24.0-hour training that covers the core topics required for accreditation. The curriculum was developed with the needs of the supportive caregiver in mind and specifically to address gaps in currently available training on how victim advocates understand and engage caregivers. Day one of the training begins with an examination of trauma responses in children and methods victim advocates can use to give children control they have lost, while subsequent sessions focus on caregiver responses to trauma, engagement of families as a way of supporting the child victim and how advocates can aid supportive caregivers. For example, advocates learn the value and purpose of an initial screening to gather information about a family’s concrete needs and understanding a caregiver’s response in light of their personal history, culture, and other factors. The training further develops the victim advocates’ understanding of their role on the MDT, including their support to and interaction with children and families during a forensic interview, attendance and robust participation at case review, and preparing the child victim and families for interaction with the court and prosecution of the case.
To ensure advocates can easily access the training, the curriculum is designed to be delivered virtually through a series of four 5.0-hour sessions plus 4.0 hours of independent study. The trainers skillfully partner didactic learning with virtual engagement tools and encourage lively peer sharing among advocates to explore ways that advocates meet both the needs of the children that come through the CAC and how to offer supportive services to the child’s caregiver. Information about upcoming cohorts of “The Advocate’s Role in the Multidisciplinary Response to Child Abuse,” can be found on WRCAC’s website. Registration opens a few weeks in advance of each cohort and is accessible through a published link on the training page.
Additional resources dedicated to victim advocates working in a CAC setting include the following:
Role of the Victim Advocate – WRCAC and the Northeast Regional Children’s Advocacy Center (NRCAC) co-produced this 17-minute video which serves as an orientation tool for current and incoming MDT members to understand the importance of victim advocates on the MDT and what victim advocates do for children and families.
Victim Advocacy Resources – NRCAC has compiled resources for victim advocates including a “Field Guide for Victim Advocacy” and related “Supervisors Manual to the Field Guide for Victim Advocacy,” and victim advocate guidelines created jointly by the Regional Children’s Advocacy Centers to assist with meeting accreditation standards.
National Children’s Advocacy Center Virtual Training Center (VTC) – the VTC includes resources, webinars, and training for victim advocates, including “It’s a Crisis for Me Too! Helping Non-Offending Parents in Child Sexual Abuse,” “Nurturing a Hope-Centered and Trauma-Informed Response,” and “What Do I Do Now? Assisting the Non-Offending Parent of a Sexually Abused Child.” A free account is required to access materials.
Victim advocates have a unique role in the MDT by providing a voice for children and families during and after the investigative process. By building relationships with caregivers, understanding each family’s unique situation, and voicing their needs and experiences with their team members, the victim advocate provides a perspective that could otherwise be overlooked or dismissed.
I invite you to learn more about the role of the advocate in a CAC by attending a cohort of “The Advocate’s Role in the Multidisciplinary Response to Child Abuse” as well as exploring the other resources shared here.