For years, the Child and Family Enrichment Council conducted forensic interviews with potentially abused or neglected children in a converted garage.
"Interviewing occurred in a small, lackluster room that was cold in the winter and hot in the summer due to the fact that the room is located in a converted garage without any insulation," CAFE director Brooke Garcia-Nettz said. "Children and their families deserve better."
This was just one of the challenges addressed through a new partnership with Central Michigan University's Center for Children, Families and Communities.
CAFE, a child advocacy center that investigates child abuse and provides services to reduce trauma for child victims in Isabella County, recently moved its operations into the center's facility. This provides the organization with a professional setting as well as several other benefits to help them serve children and families in a more comprehensive, professional and efficient way.
Garcia-Nettz believes the impact of this partnership could be tremendous.
"We have the opportunity to mobilize and collectively build capacity to prevent child physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, within our community," Garcia-Nettz said. "We also have the ability to create better outcomes for children and families by educating students on best practices in child abuse prevention and intervention techniques before entering their career."
CAFE investigates approximately 125 child abuse cases a year through a multidisciplinary team approach. Along with the forensic interviewer, law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney also are involved, along with a mental health professional in some cases. The center's facility allows for children to only have to be interviewed once by the forensic interviewer, with others watching in an observation room via closed-circuit television.
"The setup we have is exactly what CAFE needs, and our center can provide further help to the children they serve," CCFC director Larissa Niec said.
The center works to improve the well-being of children and families through research and mental health interventions. Utilizing state-of-the-art technology, the faculty and students provide real-time coaching for parents to help them learn and practice healthy discipline techniques and enhance their parent-child relationships.
Children who need further assessment or treatment, determined through the forensic interviews, also can get that assistance at the center with access to therapists and counseling services.
The new partnership also will provide new and unique opportunities for CMU students.
"This is great for our students as our graduate students will gain training in forensic interviewing and providing services to children who have experienced trauma, and it also will provide research and learning opportunities for undergraduate students," Niec said.