The work of Family Services’ Vantage Pointe Children’s Advocacy Center
By Fulton McSwain
When something traumatic happens to a child, how does he or she tell responsible adults about happened?
The Vantage Pointe Children’s Advocacy Center is a safe, neutral, child-friendly facility where services are provided to children and families who have experienced child maltreatment or who have witnessed a violent crime, such as a murder.
Ninety percent of Vantage Pointe’s clients are children alleged to have been victims of sexual abuse. The Vantage Pointe Center serves children ages 3 and up. Services provided by the Center include forensic interviews, family and victim advocacy, counseling, multidisciplinary staffing, referrals, and education and training. A highly certified and educated forensic interviewer works with a trained advocate and trauma-informed therapists to assist the child victim and the victim’s family. Referrals for forensic interviews are made by law enforcement and Child Protective Services.
A forensic interview is a single-session, recorded interview with a child intended to elicit detailed information about events that the child has experienced or witnessed. The forensic interview is usually the first component of a comprehensive child abuse investigation. The purposes of a forensic interview are:
- to obtain information that may be helpful in a criminal investigation,
- to assess the safety of the child,
- to obtain information that will either corroborate or refute allegations of abuse, and
- to assess the need for medical treatment and psychological care.
Last year, a total of 205 forensic interviews were conducted at Vantage Pointe.
One of the challenges Vantage Pointe has been facing is the amount of time it takes for a child to be seen at the Center, following a referral. Due to the sheer number of referrals and the lack of funding for additional staff, families often wait a month or longer before a forensic interview can be conducted. This delay can result in adverse effects on case outcomes. The more time that passes before the child is forensically interviewed, the more likely it is that corroborative evidence may diminish. In addition, as time passes, there is the potential for children to forget specific details associated with the abuse.
In spite of the challenges, the Vantage Pointe Center continues to collaborate with the District Attorney’s Office, Law Enforcement, Child Protective Services, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in an effort to respond to child abuse cases in Forsyth County. The Vantage Pointe Center is instrumental in facilitating the investigation of cases as well as coordinating intervention in an effort to reduce trauma for those children and families who have been impacted by child maltreatment.
Fulton McSwain Jr., MA, is the Program Manager for Vantage Point Children’s Advocacy Center