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WA is setting high standards with Child Advocacy Centre – Amanda Paton

West Australian Newspaper: 06.03.2019

WA is setting high standards with Child Advocacy Centre

Almost three decades ago, in 1985, the first Child Advocacy Centre was opened in Huntsville, Alabama in response to a frustrated services system in the United States. Following a case review of a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse, the multitude of professionals involved realised they were potentially contributing to the child’s trauma by having her re-tell her story more than 10 times within a fractured and siloed system. Since then, the model has gained significant momentum, a strong criminal justice and therapeutic evidence base and has expanded to multiple countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Canada, Turkey, Israel and South Africa. With over 1,200 centres now in operation world-wide, how does Australia’s first centre which opened in 2011, the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre operating in Armadale, Western Australia, stack up? Quite well actually.

Although WA may have been slow off the mark, recent feedback from international delegates at the 34th Annual Chadwick Centre Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment in San Diego revealed that we certainly have made up for lost time.

WA’s integrated service response was commended for the level of integration between police, child protection, health, justice, advocacy and trauma treatment services. It has a well-developed Child and Family Advocate role that is independent, trauma informed, long term and incorporates both a case management and brief therapeutic element; something that is elusive in some international centres. Police and child protection service consult one another for each child sexual abuse report ensuring the needs of the child and family are at the forefront of any pursuit of a judicial response. There is a Child Witness Service that is state funded to provide much needed supports for those children and families who enter the court system. WA has a medical response that is individualised and focused on providing the best possible health assessment and treatment whilst being the least invasive. Children also have access to a dedicated therapeutic response which is free, and in line with international evidence-based practice, ensuring that specialised psychological services are available when needed.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and adjustments to any well put together ensemble. Sound theoretical and now evidence-based principles around poly-victimisation (noting that child sexual abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse), use of child exploitation material (many offenders of this type of crime will also have been involved in direct or contact child sexual abuse) and Adverse Childhood Experiences (known experiences that increase a child’s vulnerability) are imbedded in some international policy and practice frameworks. Something worth exploring for our Australian context.

We also have opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes and successes in terms of how to adapt, co-design and scale up the Child Advocacy Centre model to develop in regional locations where low population density, cultural uniqueness, and vast, often harsh terrain can impact service design and delivery.

So, although WA may have had a slow start in our journey to develop a Child Advocacy Centre model, we can be proud that what we do have now is one of the best in the world and highlights the significant efforts of government and non-government working together for the benefit of Children and Families.

To keep momentum, we must continue our efforts integrating key services and build robust research, evidence-based training and investment in child sexual abuse response, prevention and treatment.

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