Balancing justice, hope and healing is the mission of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Van Zandt County. It is just one of more than 70 such advocacy centers in Texas and 200 nationwide, part of a larger effort to protect young victims from revictimization by the adult criminal justice system. In 2017, 256 child abuse investigations came through the center.
“We are the ones who provide the services to the family members and the children,” said Kevin King, CACVZC executive director. “Once a child is interviewed, we offer family members the opportunity to have counseling, parenting groups, teen groups, and other advocacy resources the family may need.”
Located in Canton, the center houses forensic services, family advocacy, therapeutic services, community education services and business/administrative services.
The center opened in 2004, working alongside Texas Child Protective Services and law enforcement to provide forensic interviews for children referred to the center after possible abuse, neglect or as witnesses to crime. The center provides a facility and expert help as a bridge between the child and the prosecution team while providing a safe, child-friendly environment. The goal is promoting the mental stability and healing for children, without compromising the integrity of investigations by law enforcement and CPS.
One of the center’s biggest challenges is educating the public about the services it offers and how much work they do.
“Because the county is so spread out and us being centrally located in Canton, people in Fruitvale or Ben Wheeler or farther out, don’t really know what the resources are or how to access them,” King said.
Volunteers are key to success in spreading the word, as well as helping with the families at the center.
“It also helps to have smiling faces when the kids come in, to try to have it more child-friendly, because there is nothing scarier for these kids than coming into a place that they are unsure about,” King said.
Find more information about the center and becoming a volunteer at cacvz.org.