McKenzie’s Hope is the Huntington County Child Advocacy Center Inc. We opened our doors in January 2006. Our goal is to ensure that children ages 3-18 years of age are not re-victimized by the system designed to protect them from abuse. The development of the Center has eliminated the struggle of competing interests by operating under a single unified mission. At McKenzie’s Hope, a multi-disciplinary team of agency professionals is dedicated to serving and protecting the children of Huntington County. Our team includes members from the Huntington City Police Department, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Child Services, Huntington County Prosecutor’s Office, child-victim advocate, and McKenzie’s Hope staff.
Our team of professionals meets monthly for on–going training and to review each case that has come through the CAC. This process is to encourage accountability and to ensure that no child abuse case is falling through the cracks in Huntington County. In the late 1980s, poor investigative work in high profile sexual abuse cases brought the process of child victim interviewing under scrutiny and criticism. Child victims were often interviewed multiple times by various groups – school personnel, mental health agencies, Department of Child Services (DCS), Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA), prosecutors and more. Performed by untrained interviewers, the results of these interviews were often confusing and led to conflicting statements from the child. Appropriate responses to a child’s report were difficult to mount and child abusers were less likely to be held accountable for their actions. Taking action, communities began developing better ways of investigating these difficult cases and Children’s Advocacy Centers began to develop.
Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) are child-friendly, neutral facilities with staff that help a multidisciplinary team investigate allegations of child abuse, with a particular emphasis on sexual abuse and serious physical abuse. CACs offer a much-improved approach. Allegations of abuse are reported to either DCS or LEA and an interview of the child is scheduled, often immediately. The CACs assist investigators in coordinating the presence of all necessary multidisciplinary team members. The goal is to conduct one forensic interview. This means a specially trained interviewer talks with the child in a way that is developmentally appropriate to the child and avoids asking leading or suggestive questions. While the interviewer talks with the child, the interview will be recorded through a closed circuit camera while representatives from LEA, DCS and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office watch from a monitoring room. The interviewer wears an earpiece so that team members are able to ask questions or relay information. Following the victim interview, the investigators collectively decide the course of action regarding additional investigation and/or services for the child or family members.