By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director
A strong, vibrant, and sustainable Child Advocacy Center elevates the quality of safety in a community. It’s very presence serves as a beacon, signaling to all potential perpetrators that, “Abuse is taken seriously here.” To all victims it rings out, “Refuge can be found here.” When a CAC is thriving, growing, and deepening its response to the most vulnerable members of society, previously dismissed potential is awakened. Unimaginable outcomes become reachable. Advancing a world within which all children are safe and thriving is attainable.
The Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center is proud to serve as a regional beacon in the communities of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford Counties and the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. We also provide courtesy services for children who live within our area but may have been harmed elsewhere, as well as for counties that do not have access to a CAC. Since 2010, we have continued to stretch our thinking, our partnerships, and our resources to serve children and families in our region and beyond.
A record-breaking response
More and more children are referred to the TBCAC each year. In 2018, a record-breaking 359 children walked through our doors. In fact, for the past five years, the number of children referred to the Traverse Bay CAC has steadily increased. This may be unsettling and seem indicative of abuse getting worse in our region. Yet, it is more likely a reflection of children being believed and adults knowing how to report suspected abuse to the appropriate agencies. That’s good news!
Children come to us from all over. In 2018, most cases were from Grand Traverse County (26%) reflecting its larger population. Kalkaska and Wexford Counties each referred 14% of cases. Eleven percent of cases were courtesy interviews for children who do not have access to a CAC in other parts of the state. Nine and 10% of cases came from Benzie and Antrim Counties, respectively. Eight percent of all cases were children who live in our service area but may have been harmed elsewhere. Leelanau County, the Grand Traverse Band, and the FBI comprised the remaining 8%.
The pursuit of justice
The multidisciplinary team (MDT) response is a core part of our work. When police or child protective services suspect a child is being abused, the child is brought to the CAC—a safe, child-focused environment—by a caregiver or other “safe” adult. At the CAC, the child tells their story once to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask in a way that does not not retraumatize the child. Then, a team that includes medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to help the child based on the interview.
For the first time in the history of the Traverse Bay CAC, we conducted two forensic interviews simultaneously on five different occasions. Each instance involved a family with siblings that required multiple forensic interviews to ensure that all children in the home environment were safe. We got creative with our facility, our technology, and our staff. We housed two multidisciplinary teams to observe and respond to the children’s disclosures and to formulate action plans. The results were amazing! We reduced the families’ time at the Center by half and their stress levels were more manageable as well. The implications for the future are tremendous in terms of increasing our capacity to serve the region. Plans to brainstorm ways to accommodate more simultaneous interviews in the future are underway.
Helping kids thrive
TBCAC helps kids thrive and communities shine by providing access to evidence-based mental health treatments that reduce the debilitating effects of trauma from abuse. Child abuse can cause lifelong damage to children, families, and communities. But we can prevent these outcomes, especially when children receive effective mental health services and support early on. Our on-site counseling services at the TBCAC help kids go back to being kids.
We are fortunate to have a clinical psychologist and registered play therapist on staff who are trained to administer an array of evidence-based treatments. Additionally, we supervise 3-4 master’s level clinical interns each year who see clients as part of their practicum placement. We offer individual, family, and group therapy, utilizing methods of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, Attachment, Regulation and Competency (ARC) Framework and others. In 2018, our practitioners worked with 233 clients and provided 1,339 sessions—close to a 30% increase over the previous year!
Emerging data is showing a clear advantage to providing in-house services to children. Compared with populations referred to outside therapists, children served onsite at CACs are 7 times more likely to attend the first session. Additionally, more than 75% of onsite clients are likely to remain engaged for 90+ days or 10+ sessions. When mental health services are delivered elsewhere, clients stop treatment, on average, after three or four sessions. Onsite services help kids start and finish treatment.
However, in rural areas the distance to travel for counseling services is a serious limitation. Most clients are able to come to the TBCAC for the forensic interview process, however, residents from outlying counties have a difficult time committing to mental health services even when they are highly desirous of treatment. Most of our current counseling clients reside in Grand Traverse County (59%). We are exploring options for establishing satellite TBCAC counseling services in counties farther from the epicenter of Traverse City as well as strengthening linkage agreements with mental health providers on other counties.
Where we’re going together
Our supporters stood up for children this year. With the help of 545 new and returning donors, we were successful in raising $105K at our annual Circle of Friends Luncheon and we are on the verge of meeting our stretch goal of $45,000 for our annual appeal to support programs that pursue justice and help kids heal. In 2019 we’ll continue to ensure access to CAC services around the region, develop more resources for our field, and improve outcomes for children and their families. There’s always time to contribute to the important work we are doing together. A gift from you today could be the one that makes the difference. ♥
About Sue ♥
Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.
About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥
The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Over 1,800 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.