Katie Boecker’s phone frequently rings, as her colleagues rush around in one of Minnesota’s fastest-growing child advocacy centers. A part of CentraCare, the Central Minnesota Child Advocacy Center serves an expanding area around Sartell, just north of St. Cloud in Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns counties. The Center has just been named an Associate/Developing member of the National Children’s Alliance.
“We’re a hospital-based CAC,” said Katie Boecker, Executive Director of the Central Minnesota CAC. “All of our employees are employees of CentraCare, which includes two part-time pediatricians for on-site medical exams, an RN who is SANE certified, a victim advocate, and a mental health provider,” she said, adding, “A part-time advanced pediatric nurse practitioner and additional staff will be starting soon.”
The Central Minnesota CAC began operating in October 2016 and has already served approximately 65-70 families since then. The CAC has also started providing foster care physicals and services to sexually exploited youth. They estimate 500 children a year may come through the Center. “That’s 500 children that won’t have to travel to the Cities for a medical exam”, she says.
Being named an Associate/Developing member by the National Children’s Alliance signals a Center’s ability to become a fully accredited facility in the future. Where many CACs across the nation may take years to become accredited, Central Minnesota CAC’s quick ascent to Associate/Developing member is remarkable for such a young Center. “This shows we’re not just making this up, it’s all based on evidence and best practices,” said Boecker.
The facility and team took almost a year to coordinate before opening late last year. “It took a lot of work and time and education for our partners here at the hospital to understand the CAC model,” said Boecker. “Their job is to protect patient privacy and operate within the confines of HIPPA. It was a hard sell when we told them we have to share information with the officers, prosecutors, and other members of our multidisciplinary team, but we worked it out.”
Boecker has spent the last 15 years in mental health and trauma preparing herself for the task of operating the CAC. With her undergraduate degree in social work, a Master’s degree in school/community counseling and six years of experience working as a school counselor, she also earned a second Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Boecker started her work with CentraCare as a psychotherapist offering mental health services to adults, adolescents, and children for nine years. “Within the past five years I found my passion working with children that have experienced trauma, and providing services to the family as a whole,” said Boecker.
“I was mad at the system because it looked so much at “getting the bad guy”, and didn’t look at how fragile and traumatized this young female was…”
“A defining moment in my career was when I first started my therapy career,” she said. “I provided services to a young female that was struggling with PTSD symptoms. The stories of her abuse she disclosed were so sad, but she trusted and believed that I could help reduce her trauma symptoms. She was a victim of what we consider now as “sex trafficking”. I received a phone call from an investigator as they wanted to meet with her to get more information on the trafficker and possibly take her to the home where the abuse occurred. She was staying at a residential home as she didn’t have any supportive people in her life.”
Boecker continued, “I discussed this with her. About the pros and cons and we both agreed she wasn’t ready to go there. That night she was picked up by the investigator and went down the alley it all happened, explaining the details that would help the case. She needed support to help her get back to reality, which in therapy we would call “grounding techniques”.
The next morning Boecker received a phone call informing her the young woman had hung herself in her bedroom. “I was mad at the system because it looked so much at “getting the bad guy”, and didn’t look at how fragile and traumatized this young female was,” said Boecker.
Today, Boecker knows she made the right move into her work with the Center. “I am very thankful for the Child Advocacy Center model,” she said, adding, “Having every professional together makes for a better investigation and provides the necessary services to start the healing process.”