The University of Missouri–St. Louis has a three-fold mission: education, research and service. One of the ways the university fulfills its commitment to service is through its support of Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.

Each year, CASGSL provides specialized individual, group and family counseling to approximately 800 children affected by different types of traumatic events, including childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. CASGSL serves witnesses of domestic abuse and violent crime and children who have suffered accidents and traumatic bereavement. The center also trains graduate students from psychology, social work, counseling and criminal justice in how to respond to child maltreatment and trauma.

“Thanks to the center and all that we have learned, we both are able to walk away as stronger people,” one mother commented about her child who received counseling services from CASGSL.

One of CASGSL’s most important services is forensic interviews of children who have allegedly been sexually abused, physically abused or witnessed a violent crime. The goal of the interview is to obtain a single, objective, clear picture of the details of the alleged abuse — who abused the child, when and how often the abuse occurred, how did the abuse occur and where it occurred. At the same time, the child is relieved of the trauma of repeatedly recounting the abuse and is reassured that she or he is safe and that the abuse was not her or his fault.

“I don’t like talking about this, but I’m telling you the bad memories so I don’t have to think about them anymore,” said one child after undergoing counseling services.

The Children’s Division, Missouri Department of Social Services and local law enforcement jurisdictions refer children to CASGSL. In these cases, a call to the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline or a police report has been made, indicating that it is suspected that a child has been abused. The scheduling of the interview is coordinated through CASGSL. A team of individuals from law enforcement, child protection, the prosecutor’s office, the juvenile court and CASGSL coordinates the interview process.

During the interview, the child sits in a comfortable, child-friendly room and is interviewed by a trained CASGSL staff member regarding the facts of the suspected abuse. The interviewer is careful to establish the child’s credibility and to avoid leading questions. Other members of the team can observe the interview through a one-way mirror and can interact with the interviewer discreetly, if necessary.

“I’m so glad you talked to me. It’s like a load is off my back!” said one child following a forensic interview.

Following the interview, the team meets with the child’s caregiver to decide the next steps. CASGSL also provides Victim Advocacy Services for the families of children who receive forensic interviews. The victim advocate helps these families in crisis interact with the multiple agencies they encounter.

CASGSL’s victim advocate helps with this process by:

* Accompanying children and families to physical examination appointments, appointments with law enforcement or prosecution agencies and other appropriate agencies;

* Providing court accompaniment, court preparation services and referrals to necessary services;

* Contacting parents or guardians regularly via phone to update them on case status, provide referrals and answer questions; and

* Consulting regularly with the multi-disciplinary team of child protection, law enforcement, family court and prosecuting or circuit attorney’s offices professionals to ensure follow-up on cases.

Child Advocacy Centers were developed in the late 1980s to help child sexual abuse victims, and today CASGSL provides counseling to victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse and children who have been through some sort of trauma. The National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Ala., was the first center that operated under this model.

CASGSL is one of only two CACs affiliated with a university. There are now more than 400 CACs and 246 associate member CACs across the country, with 16 centers in the state of Missouri. They vary in size and format, but all share a common goal: to provide a safe haven for child abuse victims.

More information:

Jack Crosby

Jack Crosby

Jack Crosby Senior Information Specialist 440 Woods Hall University of Missouri-St. Louis One University Boulevard St. Louis, Missouri 63121
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