Every year, dozens of children in Yellowstone County suffer severe physical abuse or sexual victimization. The trauma can have a lifelong impact on children. A coordinated, trauma-informed response helps abused children cope with their world much better. That is why our community needs the Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC).
The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center is accredited by the National Children’s Alliance. In the last five years, the CAC, based at RiverStone Health, has worked with more than 800 Yellowstone County children.
These youngsters have been physically injured, frightened, victimized and emotionally traumatized. They have lost trust in adults and struggle over whether to tell anybody what happened. Before they show up at the CAC door, these kids have been manipulated, groomed, isolated, bribed, threatened, blamed and made to feel powerless. The adults who are supposed to protect them are usually the ones who hurt them. Most offenders are known to the child and had a position of trust or authority over their victim.
Amazingly, most of these child victims also come with a little bit of hope. This hope takes root and thrives when there is a strong advocacy center using self-esteem building and resiliency methods, a well-trained staff and a strong multidisciplinary team working for the child and family.
The Yellowstone Valley CAC’s multidisciplinary team includes, pediatric medical specialists, mental health professionals, Montana Division of Child and Family Services staff, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, Billings Police Department, Laurel Police Department and Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office.
CAC services include:
- Forensic interviews conducted by law enforcement, Montana child protection specialists and CAC staff to obtain unbiased, documented accounts of events from children suspected to be victims of abuse. These interviewers are skilled in conducting non-leading interviews that clarify what happened to a child. Importantly, the interviewers are trained to avoid re-traumatizing the child. The team approach aims to collect information with one interview, so the child victims don’t have to keep repeating their story.
- Medical examinations conducted by a specially trained physician. The exam may provide evidence for criminal and civil investigations. The exam results also inform health care plans to meet the child’s needs.
- Mental health counseling. The CAC works with therapists trained in trauma-informed care. They use evidence-based methods proven to help heal and build resiliency.
- Advocates with the Child Advocacy Center and victim witness specialists with the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office help children and families navigate their world after a disclosure of abuse. Families may need help with understanding the dynamics of sexual victimization, financial resources, housing resources, group support and Crime Victim’s Compensation.
The Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office reviews cases, including the interviews and other evidence gathered by the multidisciplinary team. The attorneys make determinations on whether criminal prosecution is warranted.
Civil legal intervention also may be needed to protect children who aren’t safe in their own homes. Montana Child and Family Services workers investigate reports of child neglect and abuse. If the reports are substantiated, children can be removed to the care of relatives or state-licensed foster parents.
Continuation of these civil removals is subject to review by the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office and the District Court. Parents are provided with state-paid attorneys if they cannot afford to hire legal counsel. Reunification of children with a parent is the goal when the child can be kept safe. An attorney also is appointed to represent the best interests of the child. A limited number of Yellowstone County children who have been abused or neglected also have a trained, unpaid volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
CAC multidisciplinary team members join forces to address safety, promote healing for the children and accountability for offenders. Children must be safe from further abuse.
To report suspected child abuse, call the Montana hotline at 866-820-5437.
Doug Andersen, program manager for Family Health Services at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-246-3375