The Legal Eagles of Child Advocacy Centers: A Lawyer's Guide to Soaring in the Courtroom

Published in 2009

Children's Advocacy Center professionals face extraordinary challenges as they dedicate their working lives to helping children who have made allegations of sexual and physical abuse. Effective CACs employ a multi-disciplinary team approach to the investigation, treatment, and prevention of child sexual abuse.

But we know that child abuse allegations are often settled in the courtroom, and the road toward the courtroom can be confusing and complicated for CAC professionals and their centers, which often lack qualified and competent legal counsel to pave their wave. This book is a collection of Legal Letters written by Attorney Andrew Agatston to CACs, child advocates and detectives that establishes a path toward becoming Legal Eagles for the children they serve.

When Andrew was on the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia Board of Directors, he noticed that many of the Children’s Advocacy Centers in Georgia did not have qualified legal counsel to assist them in their legal needs related to legal cases which involved them.  Upon further research, Andrew found that many Children’s Advocacy Centers across the United States were in the same situation.  So in 2008, he began researching legal cases that impacted CACs, and provided written summaries of those cases to CAC professionals in Georgia. Pretty soon, CAC professionals in other states found out about the free service, and requested to be added to the list.  Now, there are 900 professionals affiliated with Children’s Advocacy Centers who are on Andrew’s listserv across the country.

The articles written and sent to CAC professionals and those affiliated with CACs make up a collection of four books:

1. 2009 book, The Legal Eagles of Children’s Advocacy Centers: A Lawyer’s Guide to Soaring in the Courtroom;  https://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0057193049/The-Legal-Eagles-of-Childrens-Advocacy-Centers.aspx

2. 2010 book, The Legal Eagles Guide for Children’s Advocacy Centers, Part II: Soaring Confidently in the Courtroom;  https://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0071853049/The-Legal-Eagles-Guide-for-Childrens-Advocacy-Centers-Part-II.aspx

3. 2012 book, The Legal Eagles Guide for Children’s Advocacy Centers, Part III: Soaring for Advocacy and Justice;  https://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0090563050/THE-LEGAL-EAGLES-GUIDE-FOR-CHILDRENS-ADVOCACY-CENTERS-PART-III.aspx

4. 2014 book, The Legal Eagles Guide for Children’s Advocacy Centers, Part IV: Soaring Higher for Children and Families;  https://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0144663050/THE-LEGAL-EAGLES-GUIDE-FOR-CHILDRENS-ADVOCACY-CENTERS-PART-IV.aspx

Today, Andrew continues to send out Legal Letters to his "Legal Eagles."  He also is a frequent trainer at the state, regional and national levels.  CACs and their statewide organizations can contact Andrew at [email protected] to schedule trainings, or inquire about the "Legal List" listserv.

 

Book reviews:

"In practical understandable prose, Andrew Agatston addresses many of the legal challenges facing Children´s Advocacy Centers. Executive directors, forensic interviewers and others who work in or with a CAC will find this book to be of great assistance." -- Victor Vieth, Director, National Child Protection Training Center

“After more than 15 years and more than 700 Children’s Advocacy Center and Multidisciplinary Teams (and counting), Andrew Agatston clarifies the fundamental ‘critical’ issues in one publication that each of us had addressed in our communities one issue at a time over the years.  This is a fresh piece of advocacy for all child protection professionals, and will be part of my resource library that I’ll recommend to all of my colleagues.” -- Detective Mike Johnson, Plano Police Department, Plano, Texas, Founder of Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center

"The Children´s Advocacy Center model has revolutionized the United States´ resposne system to child sexual abuse, and this shift has dramatically impacted the legal system´s response to these children, the programs which serve them, and the records associated with this service. This book provides an outstanding overview of numerous challenging legal situations which CACs may face in this environment. While focused on the perspective of current practice in the State of Georgia, these challenges are universal, and this comprehensive compilation, written in an easy to understand format, is a must have for every CAC and its legal counsel." -- Chris Newlin, MS LPC, Executive Director, National Children´s Advocacy Center

“This book is a must-read for all professionals, whether they are seasoned or new to the field of child abuse allegations. Andrew Agatston has been our lawyer at SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center for 10 years, arming our team with valuable legal information that he now shares with you. The practical yet critical information in Andrew’s ‘Legal Eagles’ book will give you the knowledge and understanding to be confident in the courtroom. ” -- Jinger Robins, MA, Executive Director, SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center, Marietta, Georgia

 

Children’s Advocacy Centers: One Place to Go

To understand Children’s Advocacy Centers and what they do today, it is important to understand what it was like in communities prior to CACs being established.

Before the existence of CACs, children who were physically and sexually abused had one of two choices. The first choice was to do nothing. The second choice was to report their allegations to child protective services, or to a policy agency, and then begin the whole cycle: Who do you talk to? How do you talk to them? When are going you going to talk to them? What are you going to tell them about? And how many different times are you going to have to tell the story about the sexual abuse?

Here is a case example prior to a CAC in a community. Greg is nine years old. Last week he told his mother than an older neighborhood boy had been sexually abusing him for more than a year. Children in situations like Greg’s live in every corner of our country. Greg erroneously thought that the hardest part was going to be telling his mom about the abuse.

But after he meets with a detective at a police precinct, Greg will get back into his mother’s car and ride to the social service agency to talk about the abuse again. After that, he will be driven to the medical doctor for a physical examination and will have to describe the abuse a third time. After that, he will go to a mental health professional, where he will have to discuss the abuse once more.

Before there were CACs, in a way it was easier to live with the abuse than to tell all of these people about it. Professionals at CACs know that every time a child tells about the abuse, she relives it again, and again, and again.

Greg, and so many other boys and girls, were being furthered victimized by the systems that were supposed to protect them.

Fast forward to when a CAC is established in a community. Instead of first going to a police precinct to be interviewed, 9–year–old Greg is brought directly to a CAC. He and his mother are greeted by a child and family advocate, who provides them with some initial information so that they understand the process that is going to occur.

The child and family advocate coordinates the professionals who meet at the CAC to work as a multidisciplinary team to create a child–focused approach to abuse cases: law enforcement officials, investigators and case workers from child protective services, representatives from the district attorney’s office, medical personnel, social workers, and therapists.

Greg is taken to a child–friendly room, with small tables and chairs that are designed for children. When the detective arrives to begin the forensic interview, he sits down with the child, each on a small chair, at eye level. The detective first builds rapport. He talks to the child. He asks legally sound, developmentally correct, and age appropriate questions. He listens to the answers. The rest of the multidisciplinary team observe from an adjacent room, and afterward meet to determine the most effective and least traumatic approach to assisting the child and his or her family.

The child and family advocate meet with the family afterward to explain the next steps. The advocate may provide crisis intervention and referrals for medical examinations and forensic evaluations. Depending on the results of the initial forensic interview, there might be a referral for counseling. The process is made as simple as possible for the family.

The benefits of this multidisciplinary approach is immediately seen, over the past model. There is consistent, fast follow–up to abuse reports by law enforcement. There is efficient medical and mental health referrals that more effectively help the child and his or her family. And most importantly, there is a dramatic reduction in trauma experienced by the child.

Every community should have a Children’s Advocacy Center. If yours does not, then contact your local legislators, your local district attorney’s office, and your community leaders to see what can be done. In Georgia, you can also obtain information from the statewide network, the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia, at www.cacga.org.

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