When asked the question “What does the Child Advocacy Center do?” I must first tell a story. I will begin with the story of Jane Doe. Jane is a 6-year-old little girl who lives in a family that includes her mother, her mother’s live-in boyfriend and her baby brother. Something has been happening to Jane in her home, but she is too frightened to tell anyone. Many thoughts have been put into Jane’s young, innocent mind. She has been told that if she tells what has happened to her, she may be taken away from her family. Who then, will take care of her little brother? He also threatened to kill Mommy and her little puppy if she dared to tell anyone!
Jane goes to school every day in the same dirty clothes. Sometimes she wears clothes that are too small. She plays quietly, alone. She lives in a world of terror. Teachers notice Jane, and a report is made to the Department of Human Resources. Jane’s world then changes forever. First, she is taken to the Department of Human Resources and has to tell a strange lady what has happened to her. She must tell that her mother’s boyfriend comes to her room at night. But this lady wants to know details. Jane is ashamed, and terrified. She feels better now that she has told, but the escapade has just begun.
Jane then has to make a visit to the police department. This is very frightening. She has to answer this policeman’s questions about what has happened to her. He asks the same questions the social worker asked. But the pain doesn’t end here, either. Jane then must visit a prosecution attorney and answer his questions, too. This is all too much. And then…. court. “You mean I have to tell my story again, in front of that bad man? This is all too much, I should have never told anyone”, Jane thinks.
And what about Mommy? This man she loved so much, how could this have happened? And right under her nose? She should have known! Now that he is gone, how is she going to make ends meet? She lays in bed at night and feels lonely, sad, angry, frustrated….and then the baby cries. “I can’t take anymore,” she thinks. With all that is going on, how can she support Jane?
Jane’s story is so common in Marshall County. Former District Attorney, Ronald Thompson understood Jane’s pain, and realized there had to be a better way of conducting these sensitive investigations. With help from the Department of Human Resources and Mountain Lakes Behavioral Healthcare, Ronald Thompson initiated the Child Advocacy Center. Here, victims of child abuse could be interviewed by all concerned agencies in a warm, child friendly environment.
In November 1997 the Child Advocacy Center first opened its doors. With no funding, the Center depended solely on the community for support. Office space was provided by Mountain Lakes Behavioral Healthcare. Employees from the Department of Human Resources and the District Attorney’s Office found donations of furniture and office supplies.
The Child Advocacy Center now has several sources of funding including the State of Alabama General Fund, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Children’s Trust Fund and local contributors. We have moved into a business/residential district and have a home-like environment in which children can feel safe.
Services provided by the Child Advocacy Center range from team investigations to child therapy and family support. We also provide ongoing training for investigators as well as digital radio service for immediate communication among investigators. The Center now has 5 full time and 2 part-time employees.
We thank you for volunteering your time and service to the Child Advocacy Center. With your guidance, the CAC will continue to grow and offer hope to the many hurting children of this community.