By Lucy Berry DeButy
A public-private partnership between Huntsville Police and the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) is benefiting the community’s most vulnerable population – its children.
Co-located at NCAC’s 45,000-square-foot campus near downtown Huntsville, both groups work together to respond to and investigate crimes against youth.
It’s a unique model that allows NCAC leaders to see justice in action.
“When we work together, we can take advantage of each other’s intelligence, life experience, strengths, tools – things we wouldn’t have if we were working in a silo,” said Amanda Jarrett, communications and marketing director for NCAC.
Child abuse resources
After an abuse allegation is made, Jarrett said an NCAC trained professional will conduct a forensic interview with the victim in a safe and child-friendly environment. To reduce how many times a child must talk about the alleged crime, Huntsville Police and other agencies will observe the interview remotely to learn more about what happened.
Huntsville Police Investigator Blake Hemphill said NCAC’s forensic interview services set a solid foundation for his department’s investigative process.
“By them being as skilled as they are, it allows us to have better interviews and get better information and that information is something we can use in a court setting,” he said. “It allows for a smooth process.”
When we work together, we can take advantage of each other’s intelligence, life experience, strengths, tools – things we wouldn’t have if we were working in a silo.”
Hemphill said NCAC also offers medical services to any child who has allegations or concerns of abuse. A nurse practitioner is available as needed to collect evidence and document trauma in a gentle and non-threatening manner.
By being in the same facility and working closely together, Huntsville Police, NCAC and others lean on each other for advice, expertise and support.
“It saves time on a practical level because we’re all here, but it’s also forged some really strong relationships between our direct service providers and the investigators who take these cases,” Jarrett said.
Helping victims and families
Amy Boyd, conference manager for NCAC, said former Madison County District Attorney Robert E. “Bud” Cramer and others established the organization to create a better system to help abused children. Since its launch in 1985, NCAC has served as a model for more than 1,000 children’s advocacy centers (CACs) in the U.S. and more than 34 countries around the world.
Having Huntsville Police as a partner only solidifies NCAC’s commitment to the community, Boyd said.
“Every organization is going to have their strengths and weaknesses and no one organization can do it all,” she said. “But if we can all come together with the sole purpose of helping a child and family through a difficult time, not only does that unite us, it helps pull out the strengths that best benefit the child.”
NCAC offers family and victim advocacy as well as mental health services for children ages 2-18 who have experienced a trauma.
Prevention is also important to NCAC, which reaches out to nearly 10,000 people in Huntsville/Madison County each year.
It’s important because a lot of times if children don’t get the resources they need after an event like this, it can have devastating impacts and could affect their life in a negative manner moving forward.”
Hemphill said NCAC’s ability to meet the needs of children and their families allows Huntsville Police to focus solely on the criminal aspects of an investigation.
“It’s important because a lot of times if children don’t get the resources they need after an event like this, it can have devastating impacts and could affect their life in a negative manner moving forward,” Hemphill said.
To provide more expert training and networking for child maltreatment professionals, NCAC will host the 36th-annual International Symposium on Child Abuse March 23-26 at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville.
The Symposium is one of only a few conferences that addresses all aspects of child maltreatment, including physical and sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, poly-victimization, exploitation, intervention, trafficking and prevention.
Dr. Bryant T. Marks, senior founder and chief training officer for the National Training Institute on Race & Equity, will be the keynote speaker. His presentation will focus on how implicit bias affects child advocacy professionals and the communities they serve.
Boyd said registration is still open and already tracking ahead of last year’s numbers.
“We’ve been working with our City partners, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Von Braun Center to put Huntsville out there as a destination for not only great training provided by the NCAC, but as a place to come and visit,” she said.