Kids Caught in the Middle, Part 1
Published November 15th, 2013
GAINESVILLE -- Teamwork is crucial when dealing with cases of child abuse -- but in Alachua County, some members of the team are not getting along, causing one of those involved to say children could lose their services as a result.
The Alachua County Child Advocacy Center and University of Florida Child Protection Team have worked together for years assisting the victims of child abuse. But in the wake of a recent policy change by Sheriff Sadie Darnell, one agency says they're in danger of being cut out of the equation.
TV20's Trent Kelly reports on how the agencies' failure to find common ground could change the system as we know it.
As a former assistant state attorney, Marian Lee says before the Child Advocacy Center -- or CAC -- came into the picture, the system was doing more harm than good.
"Each time that child is providing an interview, they're reliving the experience," said Lee. "At that time, many children were interviewed by many different folks from these agencies, and multiple times," she said.
Lee, now the the CAC board chair, says the Alachua County non-profit has since improved the system for abused kids by providing a location where the team can get all the information they need out of one forensic interview. "The child is interviewed once, with the collaboration of all the agencies," said Lee.
Because every one serves a different role, it's crucial for the agencies to work together -- something that stopped late last year, according to CAC officials, following a change in policy by the Alachua County sheriff.
In December, Sheriff Sadie Darnell issued a directive eliminating her deputies' ability to choose to use the CAC. Instead, deputies are now required to take all abused children to the UF Child Protection Team -- or CPT.
"I had a situation that was brought to my attention, that four children in four separate child abuse cases failed to receive medical treatment," said Sheriff Darnell. By law, certain cases of child abuse require medical exams to be performed by a CPT. Because the services are not co-located in the Alachua County CAC, that requires children to travel to the CPT.
"They had to go to one location to get the forensic interview, and then go to another location, which is miles away, to get the medical assessment done, and it never happened," said Darnell.
As a result, Darnell says she decided to only take her agencies cases to the CPT, which not only has the ability to perform medical exams but can also conduct their own forensic interviews. "The CAC does remarkable work, they don't have the same level of capacity that the Child Protection Team facility does," says Darnell.
CAC officials deny the Sheriff's claims. They say their records show only 2 children failed to receive a medical exam -- one child moved away, while the other preferred to see a family doctor.
While the Gainesville Police Department still refers their cases to the CAC, the majority of children in the county are now being interviewed by staff at the CPT, a statistic that CAC officials say threatens their upcoming reaccreditation. "We would not have the same level of funding as a non-accredited center. In essence, we would not be functioning as a true Child Advocacy Center," said Lee.
Despite their disagreements, both parties seem to agree on one thing: a co-located center involving all agencies -- and including the medical exam -- would solve everyone's problems, and ensure kids are not caught in the middle.
But while both agencies agree on a co-located center, there is no agreement on where that should be. CAC officials want to create a larger facility that can facilitate the CPT's needs, while they say CPT officials wants to use space in their existing facility.
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