It’s All About the Children
SAN ANGELO, TX — The Children’s Advocacy Center of the Concho Valley, located at 317 Koberlin, is a United Way agency tasked with the difficult challenge of helping the most vulnerable among us—children who have been abused and neglected.
Last year the CAC served 2,731 children and their families in the following counties: Coke, Concho, Crockett, Irion, Kimble, McCulloch, Menard, Reagan, Runnels, Schleicher, Sterling, Sutton, and Tom Green.
In 2015, the Texas Legislature initiated changes that meant 800 number reports taken by Child Protective Services (CPS) were simultaneously distributed to the CAC’s Hope House program, Child Protective Services (CPS), and the San Angelo Police Department (SAPD).
From these 800 number reports, staff was able to identify children whose circumstances did not rise to the level of a criminal investigation, but would benefit from CAC therapy and parenting programs that might prevent a situation from escalating.
This resulted in a marked increase in the number of children served from 1,515 in 2014, to 2,813 in 2016.
It also became apparent that more detectives were needed to investigate 800 number reports.
Governor Gregg Abbott made funds available for CACs across the state to add staff and lease space for the multidisciplinary team member, and San Angelo Police Chief Frank Carter assigned more detectives to the special unit.
The CAC manages six programs, each vital to ensuring that children who have suffered abuse and neglect go through the process of healing with utmost care.
Hope House—a program within itself—has for years provided a safe and comforting setting so that children can tell their story of abuse to police or sheriffs’ department officers, child protective services investigators and the forensic interviewer; all who gather in one location so that the child only has to relive their circumstances once.
“In this way,” said Heather Ward, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, medical, therapy, and advocacy services can be coordinated seamlessly with the team.”
“We’ve created a place where the children feel safe,” said Ward, “and make it as comfortable as possible for children who have already been traumatized.”
Based on circumstances, if a child is removed from their home as a result of abuse, the Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA)—and its volunteers who are referred to as CASAs—are assigned to work on behalf of the child as their case continues through the system.
CASAs are in constant contact with the child and any supportive family members, and it isn’t unusual for a CASA to work with schools and other agencies, ultimately providing court testimony based on their independent observations and conversations.
Family Enrichment Services offer a Parent Mentoring Program, and a Circle of Parents support group.
Often the perception is that parents and family members don’t care what happens to their children when sometimes it’s a matter of helping parents learn skills for better parenting and offer support.
According to the website, The Concho Valley Family Alliance “is a partnership between parents, agencies, business leaders, and other community residents committed to building a unified community, and The Child Welfare Continuum Group evaluates practice and policies to inform local and statewide efforts and fill gaps.)
And then there is the Child Fatality Review Team (CFRT).
The CFRT reviews cases of child deaths in the 13 counties under the umbrella of the CAC with the goal of learning more about the circumstances that lead to the death of a child, and strengthening areas that might prevent future child deaths.
Last year, unfortunately, the CFRT reviewed the fatal outcome of 27 children.
In February, the CAC will lease their 3rd location at 521 W. Beauregard. The move is the next step toward ultimately building a location that houses 26 CAC staff and multiple partner agencies under one roof.
“The very best for children and their families is to be able to find help through our programs with everything under one roof,” said Ward.
“With the legislative changes and using the data we now receive, how the Hope House team serves children has evolved. By law, when an investigative unit of law enforcement exists for child crimes and a CAC can provide the space, we are required to collocate. Adding this 3rd location will enable the Hope House team to be in compliance and- most importantly- to serve children and families more efficiently and effectively.”
From investigation to parental education and support, and by working with other agencies and community leaders the Children’s Advocacy Center provides a continuum of care for the children and their families.
It isn’t easy. It takes a mentality strong enough to see the worst and the passion to make it right for hundreds of children per year.
If this is you, please call 325.653.4673 to volunteer. Or go online at http://www.cactomgreen.org to make a donation.