Defining CACs

Emily Chittenden-Laird By Emily Chittenden-Laird

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the second in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. To read the first entry, click here.

We were a movement. We were a team. We knew we needed more stable funding, but we weren’t ready for that ask… yet. What was a child advocacy center (CAC)? It was a new concept to many in the state. We had national standards, but we were still having some difficulty getting recognized (and funded), so the volunteer-run WVCAN decided we needed to pursue legislation.

I’d love to pretend that this was a seamless, easy process – everyone singing from the same songbook – but that would be a lie. I remember particularly fraught meetings where some CAC directors felt we needed to use the code to set professional standards, while others felt it more important to get us a code-sanctioned place at the table with multidisciplinary teams in our local communities. There wasn’t consensus. And, for a consensus-based organization, this presented a challenge. While we did eventually decide on a bill to push, there had already been conversations with local lawmakers that had a different understanding, and this confused the process. Ultimately, we had three different bills proposed by WV legislators with CACs in their districts.

I’ll never forget the day Shiloh Woodard (Executive Director, Child Protect of Mercer County) and I were wandering around the Capitol trying to get some movement on the bill, and then-Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth (pictured right) pulled us into his office and asked us to make sense of the three bills. (Don’s wife, Laura, had long been a supporter of CACs and had encouraged him to help the bill along.) We got to be a part of the so-called “sausage-making” and helped him identify the correct bill with the correct elements.

What ultimately happened? We were able to successfully get the bill through, a major victory for our coalition of CACs! The bill utilized the National Children’s Alliance Standards for Accreditation as a framework, and it also added CACs as required members of multidisciplinary investigative and treatment teams and when the child had come through the center. As our first legislative victory, we knew we had established a good foundation for what was to come, and we also knew we were just getting started. But we were and would continue to be a movement – a force that would advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable: child victims of abuse.

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