by Lisa Tome
For 15 years, they've been dealing with the unthinkable.
Cecil's Child Advocacy Center, which is a governmental agency operated under the direction of the Department of Social Services, deals with cases of child sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, and child fatalities.
"It's hard subject matter," said Anne Bean, Cecil's Family Violence Program Coordinator.
The CAC was established nationally in 1999 after a child in Alabama had to relive their horrible experiences over and over with government and police officials. Now, interviews are taped and victims have to tell their story only once. The children and families also receive services - medical exams, therapy, court accompaniment, and more.
In 2013, the CAC provided services to 206 children and handled 157 cases. In 2012, 248 children were assisted and 169 cases were handled.
Christina Wattenschaidt is the family advocate at the CAC. While most of their work is reactive, after the crime occurs, the CAC works to provide education and support groups. "The best prevention and protection is education," said Wattenschaidt.
The popularity of social media has added a whole new dimension and complication to the services provided. Cell phones were not prevalent when CAC started. "We have to teach kids (not to post on social media) anything that they don't want their grandchildren or grandmother to see. Everything is public and permanent," said Bean.
In addition to Bean and Wattenschaidt, the CAC has two Child Protective Services Assessors - Marion Barnett and Erica Fielder.
The law enforcement partners are Detectives Erin Nehila and Francis Wallace from the Cecil Sheriff's Office, Detectives Andrew Tuer and Lindsey Ziegenfuss from Elkton Police, and TFC Alan Flaugher from Maryland State Police. Mary Burnell provides legal assistance from the State's Attorney's Office, counseling and mental health services are provided by Katherine Bernstine and Barbara Crawford,
Dr. Steven Breslow serves as the medical director, Cheryl Vogel is the nurse. The medical services were added at the CAC in 2012.
"That's an amazing component to our services. It's not just to look for evidence. It's to make sure the children are okay," said Bean.
They also enlist the services of Paws for People which provides therapeutic dogs to provide comfort to children.
"When a child is coming here, they may not know what they're coming for. The dogs are a welcome addition. It is amazing to see them change a child's demeanor," said Wattenschaidt.
The CAC is accredited by the National Children's Alliance. The agency relies on grant funds and operates on a bare bones budget. Furniture and toys come by way of donations. "We want to educate people. We always need support. We'd love to have more organizations participate with us. We always have room for new partners," said Bean.
Alison Russell is the supervisor from the Department of Social Services. Sgt. Joe Wilson and Cpl. Todd Creek provide police supervision.
"We have a team of elite professionals. I feel fortunate to work here," said Bean.
The CAC offers a support group for Non-Offending Caregivers.
They also help with crisis intervention, provide referrals, court accompaniment, medical exams, help with insurance claims, and other outreach services. They also provide temporary child trauma therapy, intervention programs.
A celebration of 15 years of service was held at the CAC last week.
Awards and certificates of appreciation were presented to those who assist in the mission of the Child Advocacy Center.