Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) provide comprehensive services and support to children and families experiencing abuse. In Minnesota, CACs have typically provided these services in person. However, during the Coronavirus pandemic, CACs have needed to find creative ways to deliver services and ensure children and adolescents find the safety and healing they deserve.
Navigating the “New Normal”
The pandemic fundamentally changed the way we interact with many institutions on a daily basis, including the school system. While this most certainly has an impact on student learning and family schedules, it also impacts the overall safety of kids in our communities. The reason for that is simple, though perhaps unexpected. Mandated reporters, including schoolteachers, make 80 percent of mandated reports of abuse and maltreatment on an annual basis. Teachers and other school staff are typically in close, ongoing contact with kids and teens, which can give insight into potential abuse.
As a result, some areas of the state have reported a reduced number of calls to child abuse and maltreatment reporting agencies. However, several CACs report seeing a higher number of the most severe child abuse cases. Additionally, as local school districts plan to provide in-person or distance learning options, local centers are finding creative ways to make sure they can safely provide support and services to children and families.
Thanks to a generous grant through the Minnesota Council on Foundations Coronavirus Disaster Recovery Fund, Minnesota CACs are implementing several strategies to ensure services continue.
Masking and Social Distancing
CACs implemented safety measures during this pandemic. As an example, CACs require multidisciplinary team members, children, and families to wear masks while at the center. This new “normal” requires extra care to help kids feel comfortable with mask-wearing. (If you make masks, consider donating a few to your local CAC.) As an additional safety measure, some centers have also installed plexiglass dividers in forensic interview rooms.
Many centers have adjusted their appointment schedule to ensure only one family is in the building at a time. This provides ample time for cleaning between sessions and provides peace of mind for the family in knowing their contact with other people at the center will be limited.
CACs provide holistic support to kids and families healing from abuse, including mental health support. During the pandemic, clinicians have increased the implementation of trauma-informed mental health support via video. Over the next year, the Alliance will train clinicians across the state to continue increasing access to these critical services.
Increased Access to Training in Greater Minnesota
Continued professional development is a key resource the Alliance provides to multidisciplinary teams so they stay current with best practices in child abuse investigation. Due to the pandemic, the Alliance moved trainings from in-person to online. Since March and with the support of the Coronavirus Disaster Recovery Fund, the Alliance has increased its online training opportunities on topics such as problematic sexual behaviors among youth to working with and supporting LGBTQIA+ kids and teens. Additionally, the Alliance hosts weekly online forums for forensic interviewers, advocates, and CAC executive directors to ensure connectivity between professionals at a time when in-person meetings are just not possible.