Policy Study

Child Advocacy Centers

One Stop on the Road to Performance-based Child Protection

Executive Summary

One-stop child advocacy centers (CAC) are designed to help alleviate many of the inherent conflicts in the current child protection system. Child advocacy centers’ number one goal is to reduce trauma to the child abuse victim by coordinating a child’s interview to include professionals from multiple agencies, reducing the number of interviews and improving the quality of the investigation.

Under traditional child protection services (CPS), the investigation, assessment, and prosecution of child abuse cases involve many state and local government agencies. The concept behind the development of onestop systems is that services can be made more accessible and service delivery can be more efficient through co-location and coordination of services that are normally provided by more than one agency.

Anecdotal evidence and preliminary research indicates that child advocacy centers reduce the number of child abuse interviews for the victim, improve collaboration between multiple government agencies, lead to better evidence collection, improve due process for parents by moving the investigation out of the juvenile court system, result in fewer foster care placements for abused children, and can increase confessions, prosecution rates, and convictions for perpetrators. However, most of these outcomes have not been sufficiently validated through control group research between child advocacy centers and traditional child protection agencies.

This study reviews the background and characteristics of the child advocacy center model, discusses the role of child advocacy centers in the conflict between the therapeutic and judicial models of child protection, presents new survey data from CAC executive directors about performance measurement practices, reviews the current literature on child advocacy center performance, and presents recommendations for improving the quality of outcome measurements for child advocacy centers.

Specific recommendations to make CACs performance-based institutions include:

  1. Tie future CAC funding to specific performance measurement
  2. Fund performance measurement and monitoring
  3. Restructure laws to encourage district attorneys to file charges
  4. Focus on future control group research

Children’s advocacy centers stress coordination of investigation and intervention services by bringing together professionals and agencies as a multidisciplinary team to create a child-focused approach to child abuse cases. The goal is to ensure that children are not re-victimized by the very system designed to protect them through multiple interviews in strange and forbidding environments.