- Why was CACTX created?
The children’s advocacy center concept evolved as a way to counter the fact that child victims of abuse were often re-traumatized by their encounters with a legal system that was trying to help them. By 1994, there were 13 centers in Texas, but they could only do so much on their own. As such, leadership from these centers came together to form our organization as an means to set standards for CACs in Texas, promote excellence, build awareness for this issue, and help communities across the state to start a CAC. Recognizing the potential in the concept, the Texas Legislature also codified CAC standards in the Texas Family Code. Since that time, we have led the way in developing best practices and standards for helping these vulnerable children while helping launch CACs across the state.
- What is CACTX currently seeking to accomplish and what do we need to get there?
We’re working to expand the reach and depth of our services. Our geographic footprint has grown rapidly over the last two decades, but, every year, almost 3,000 child sexual abuse cases are assigned for investigation in 66 Texas counties beyond our service area. These children lack direct access to our full range of services and local authorities miss out on the collaborative partnerships that have proven so effective. We’re deepening our services by training more clinicians in evidence-based therapy, making accommodations for child victims with special needs and providing broader access to victims’ medical assessments. We need resources to improve.
- What are the leverage points that make CACTX successful?
As a public-private partnership embedded in the system, our mix of agility and credibility enables us to influence positive outcomes in the investigation of crimes against children from the inside out. Each of our CACs is unique to the local environment and culture, yet similar in their evidence-based practices and compassionate professionalism. Together, they collaborate with 600-plus law enforcement jurisdictions, 200 district and county attorneys’ offices and every CPS region in Texas. As an organization, our commitment to research enables us to play a leading role in defining best practices that are transforming the way our nation treats child victims of abuse.
- What makes CACTX effective?
Our number one asset is our people, a network of trained, compassionate professionals, on the frontlines and in our state office, who treat every child in the system as they would their own. Our people never stop asking “what’s next?”; “how can we do this better?” and “who can we get to help us.” This has led to local partnerships with police, medical, legal and child protective organizations, as well as leading minds at Texas universities whose research informs our procedures, processes and major decisions. Enthusiastically committed to evidence-based approaches, our team embraces necessary change for continuous improvement.
- What are the metrics of success for CACTX?
Someone once told us, “you don’t get what you EXPECT, you get what you INSPECT” and we inspect and measure everything meaningful at CACTX. We use a client satisfaction survey to ensure our headquarters team is hitting the mark with our centers. We use an “Outcome Measurement System” to ensure the centers are meeting the needs of their clients and collaborative partners. We also assess trauma and depression levels in our child victims at the beginning and end of their counseling cycles to measure our effectiveness. All of this data is aggregated, interpreted and integrated into our continually-improving processes.
- What aspects of CACTX are not commonly known, or are commonly misinterpreted?
People sometimes wonder where exactly CACs and, by extension, our non-profit organization, fit into the continuum of care for child victims. We get involved at the beginning of an investigation, when the abuse is first reported. CACs are also the primary providers of therapeutic care to child victims of sexual abuse. 90% of sexual abuse victims will remain in their home of origin rather than entering our state’s foster care system, causing them to miss out on state-provided recovery services. Considering the depth of trauma they’ve experienced, our network must have the support and expertise to provide interventions to this vulnerable population.
- What are CACTX's major accomplishments?
Working together, we have multiplied the number of CACs in our state and transformed the therapeutic approaches taken with victims across the country, emphasizing quality outcomes and diligently measuring our progress. After developing the forensic interview training curriculum for Texas, we’ve been asked to help other states build their own. I’m also proud of our efforts to bring evidence based mental health practices to our network. We recently trained over 100 clinicians on a proven modality. After 15 sessions their child clients experienced, on average, a 50% decrease in depression scores and trauma symptoms upon completion of this therapy module.
- What are CACTX's historical challenges or vulnerabilities?
There is a massive stigma attached to sexual abuse, so child victims don’t readily report, nor do other family members who could help. We address that with our One With Courage public awareness campaign. Also, people don’t always know who we are because of the low profile centers maintain during investigations to guard confidentiality. We also need even more data to continually refine and validate our data-driven approach. Financially, in an era of unpredictable government dollars and donors want to give locally, it can be tough for our statewide organization to get the resources needed for initiatives aimed at systemic improvement.
- What would CACTX do with additional resources?
We not only track every penny, we work to be ready for the next phase of development whenever the funds come available. If a big check came in the door tomorrow, we’d work to offer more extensive mental health services, training and support for the centers’ clinicians. We’d also dig into our research happening at UT right now and begin implementing solutions to increase access to medical assessments for victims of abuse. Finally, we’d restore funding for comprehensive programming for CAC family advocates. So feel free to step up and contribute so we can do even more.
- What are some gaps that CACTX could fill that it currently doesn’t?
In the grand scheme of things, the whole CAC concept is still pretty young. While we’ve established the essential building blocks like child-focused forensic interviewing techniques and trauma-informed therapies, we will add services aimed at improving family advocacy and access to medical services for victims as we mature. We must find new ways to reach children in remote, rural areas. Ultimately our vision is for every Texas child alleging abuse to benefit from the full array of comprehensive CAC services and every community to not only understand the dynamics of child abuse, but also act decisively to protect children in their midst.
Did you know:
Out of 43,000 child victims served at a CAC in Texas last year, 26%
were not old enough to attend kindergarten.