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Localizing the Children's Advocacy Center Movement on a Global Scale

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There are systems in place around the world designed to protect abused and neglected children. Unfortunately, these systems often take a segmented approach, creating a further traumatizing experience for children and families who report abuse.

Prior to 1985, the social services and criminal justice systems in the United States practiced a siloed approach to abuse intervention, creating unnecessary emotional distress for child victims and their families. All of this changed when former Congressman Bud Cramer developed the children's advocacy center model -- a multidisciplinary approach bringing together law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective services, and medical and mental health workers under one roof, significantly decreasing the amount of ongoing trauma during the abuse reporting process.

With the children's advocacy center movement continuing to evolve, child abuse professionals in the United States have localized the approach based on the unique needs of individual communities. And as the movement further gains traction in the United States, countries around the world have followed suit and identified methods for localizing the children's advocacy center model, keeping in mind cultural, religious and governing boundaries. Throughout this evolutionary process, National Children's Alliance has remained at the forefront of supporting these communities with the localization, while maintaining best practices for abuse intervention and advocating for vulnerable populations.

As the Executive Director of National Children's Alliance, I have had the pleasure of representing the children's advocacy center movement in communities around the world. Most recently, I was connected with The River Church Community who has established an ongoing partnership with the Lima, Peru office of international human rights organization Paz y Esperanza. The purpose of this collaboration is to fight the epidemic of sexual violence against children in Peru. As a human rights organization dedicated to defending individuals affected by various forms of injustice, Paz y Esperanza maintains a positive reputation throughout Peru and the other countries they serve.

Through their collaboration with The River Church Community, Paz y Esperanza, along with other child abuse professionals in Peru, expressed interest in learning more about the children's advocacy center model and how the approach may be applied in their local communities. In an effort to further this exploration, The River Church Community funded a visit from six United States child abuse professionals -- myself included - to Peru, with the goal of sharing knowledge, expertise, best practices, and ideas for collaboration and localization.

My time in Peru included extensive dialogue around the children's advocacy center model with many local child abuse professionals, including prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, and forensic physicians. Our group also had the pleasure of speaking to medical and law students at the Universidad de Huánuco, each of whom appeared optimistic and enthusiastic about the future of child abuse intervention in Peru and how a multidisciplinary approach might be integrated into the current system.

With various cultural and systematic hurdles currently existing, including a minimal separation of church and state, the integration of a multidisciplinary approach in Peruvian communities will take time and effort. However, it was encouraging to see the slow but steady success of the Forensic Institute Compound -- a children's advocacy center pilot project just outside of Lima, Peru.

With no other countrywide child protective services system currently in place, this pilot project (established in 2008) is slowly testing the waters locally with the children's advocacy center model. While it is not yet a full-fledged children's advocacy center, victim advocacy and medical treatment professionals are coordinating more consistently, decreasing the additional trauma victims experience during the reporting process. As a result of the project's efforts over the last few years, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of child sexual abuses cases successfully prosecuted.

Moving forward, National Children's Alliance hopes to have ongoing involvement in Peru's movement to adopt best practices for child abuse intervention. We will continue to share resources with the pilot program and provide the country's industry professionals access to the National Children's Alliance website and other digital resources. In addition, we are exploring potential granting opportunities as well as the translating of specific resources into different languages to support the global expansion of the children's advocacy center movement.

As I reflect on my experience in Peru, I am confident that the children's advocacy center model has the capacity and flexibility to be adapted by cultures and communities around the world. Since taking this position with National Children's Alliance in 2008, I have led a handful of international trips to countries where cultural and systematic challenges exist for child abuse professionals -- and in every location I find that the passion to serve victims is universal. It is my hope that as the children's advocacy center movement continues to spread internationally, more children in need will be helped despite the cultural and systematic barriers that may exist along the way.

For more information on National Children's Alliance and the Child Advocacy Center movement, please visit www.nationalchildrensalliance.org.