National Children’s Advocacy Center
Episode 26: The Impact on our Nation’s Health & Economy
Lori is joined by Chris Newlin, the Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center, which was founded to improve the multidisciplinary response to child abuse. Chris explains the importance of everyone understanding child abuse and neglect as a massive public health issue, and the impact it has on our nation’s health and economy.
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #26 – The Impact on Our Nation’s Health & Economy
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become Louder Than Silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: This podcast is brought to you by our dear friends at The Conference Experience. The folks at The Conference Experience have really helped us out at EndCAN here for the last year and a half. They do incredible work, especially during COVID. They’ve really stepped up to the plate and helped us out so if you’re needing any audiovisual, production, or even support and help with running an event, please give The Conference Experience a call. Their number is 720 323-3273 or you can check them out at theconferenceexperience.com
>> Lori: Alright welcome everybody. My name is Lori Poland and I am the Executive Director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. Thank you so much for joining us today. We have an amazing guest speaker, Chris Newlin who is the Executive Director for the National Children’s Advocacy Centers. Chris does some really incredible things. His humility and leadership has impressed me over the last few years of getting to know him. Thank you Chris for being here and taking the time out of our your COVID stricken days. I’m excited for our listeners to hear about you and learn more about Children’s Advocacy Centers and learn more about you. You guys are everywhere. You’re in it from the beginning to the end and I think there’s not a lot of agencies and programs out there that are so it’s pretty neat so welcome. Glad you’re here.
>> Chris: Thanks Lori I really appreciate the opportunity to sit down and visit with you today. Even on a Zoom call.
>> Lori: Chris why don’t we first start with telling us about Children’s Advocacy Centers. What are they? What do they do for children and families?
>> Chris: The best place to start in talking about Child Advocacy Centers is to go back to the beginning. I’ll do a little bit of a tour back in time to the 1980s. We, as a nation, were beginning to recognize that child sexual abuse was actually something that was happening, and in those early years there was a lot of focus on stranger danger, on day care cases where you had multiple victims but we were also as a nation talking about these satanic ritual cults and children were being taken by these cults and there was real concern that there was this whole ugly world of sexual abuse that we were happening that we were completely unaware of. Individual communities of people around the country were struggling, thinking about how they’d respond effectively. In Huntsville, AL there was a prosecutor named Bud Kramer who was very frustrated because he actually had an employee of the county come to him whose family member had been sexually abused and he was trying to prosecute the case and she said to him, “why don’t you all talk to each other? My family member has had to go talk to all these different people, all these different times and she doesn’t want to talk anymore. She doesn’t want to be a witness, she doesn’t want to do anything for this case anymore.” Bud was frustrated with what was happening and he thought surely there’s got to be a better way, surely somebody has figured this out. So he looked around the country and found everybody was struggling about how to intervene because child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, it’s a criminal justice issue, it’s a child protection issue, it’s a medical issue, it’s a mental health issue. You’ve got all these different parties involved but nobody’s working together and everybody’s doing their own thing. As Bud began to quickly realize is the system that should be there to help protect children was actually causing them more harm. So not only were they experiencing abuse but then when they interacted with the system, the system was re-traumatizing them again and this sends a terrible message to the child and family. So Bud said, “we’ve got to figure out a better way. We don’t see any other models around the country that are working great.” So they developed a concept here in Huntsville, AL to bring together all the various disciplines. That required a massive shift in how people were working together. Law enforcement didn’t trust child protective services, there was no real skills in interviewing children, we didn’t know about evidence-based therapy so families were having to go to all these different places so Bud said let’s turn this thing upside down. Instead of a child having to go to lots of different places and talk to lots of different people, let’s have the child come to one child friendly place. Not a sterile environment but a child friendly place. Let’s have them interviewed and receive services and everybody who needs to be there will work together. That concept is really what started off the Child Advocacy Center model here in Huntsville, AL. what began to happy over time, Lori, is other communities began to hear about what was happening and started to get some attention to it and communities saw that makes a lot of sense. We began to see success. We were able to do a better job. It actually helped children overcome and if you fast forward to where we are now 35 years later, there’s more than 1000 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the United States. Every year we help more than 365,000 new children. That’s more than 1000 new children every day that walk through the door of a CAC. This model has also spread internationally, or a variant of it, in more than 35 countries around the world. It’s an amazing story of social entrepreneurship that really is focused on doing the right things for victims of crime, especially child sexual abuse and witness to violence.
>> Lori: Wow. Tell me, how are they funded?
>> Chris: Well your CACs have a diversity of funding. What was very fortunate for this work, in 1990, 5 years after expanding this model, Bud Kramer was actually elected to Congress and was able to be in the House of Representatives for 18 years where he was able to pass legislation to help support CACs. It really kind of revolutionized how our nation responds to it. The funding is incredibly diverse. Obviously the Crime Victims Fund through the Victims of Crime Act is around the country. There’s some other federal funding through the Department of Justice. State legislatures across the nation are now supporting it. Children’s Justice Funds are supporting it. Fundraising, every other way you can think of, local governments invest in it because really CACs are helping local governments do their job. We’ve even seen in our Center we have all the Special Victims Unit for both the police department and fire department and the District Attorney’s office co-located with us. That way we’re all there together and we can collaborate and connect and discuss and review and support all together, pre-COVID. Now it’s all virtual.
>> Lori: Right but it’s the same concept right?
>> Chris: We provide a whole diversity of services. Everything from initial interview to find out what happened to the best of our ability, all the way through being able to do medical exams, therapy, so literally in our community children don’t have to go anywhere else. They come to the CAC, they’re comfortable there, they get all the services they need there and all at no charge to them.
>> Lori: I appreciate the diversity in your funding stream and I appreciate the diversity in your locations, that you have over 1000 locations across the country. That is remarkable. And I also appreciate the diversity in how you work together on that first tier but it sounds like Bud Kramer was able to see that he needed to diversify his partnerships on that second tier in order to do some policy shifting at the government level after he had some, my guess would be evidence showing that this is actually a really neat model and is actually working and here are all the families that are benefiting from it, and law enforcement and the legal centers and service providers and xyz. Everybody’s benefiting from it so how could you not be on board with it so to be able to take that evidence to a legislative level and put some policies in place to provide the actual support where everybody would be happy from the child all the way up to the magistrate and the judge that’s making the ultimate decision on what’s happening with the cases.
>> Chris: So you’re right and the amazing thing is that every research study that’s been published has found a positive impact on a whole bunch of different domains. We need more research, no doubt about it, but one of the most pivotal things we’ve found is that by having this coordinated approach we have better outcomes but we actually save money too. From the victim’s side, what we view as system-induced trauma, they’re having to go to all these different places which is horribly inefficient. One side of the coin is system-induced trauma and we always need to be working to improve our systems so victims are not further traumatized. The other side of that coin, or the shadow of system-induced trauma, is duplication of government services – government waste. So as we eliminate government waste and reduce the system-induced trauma on victims, that’s a win-win and that’s how we see the better outcomes and we’re actually saving money so it’s a smart investment.
>> Lori: It seems just from a business model it seems that where’s the downside to it?
>> Chris: If you were to ask our detectives today, they would fight you tooth and nail if you wanted their kids, as they see them, anywhere else. Same with our CPS. This is the way you do it, this is the best way to do and that’s happening all over the country and internationally.
>> Lori: Chris is, and I’m going a little off script, for our listeners we tend to kind of go over a couple questions beforehand just to make sure I’m not throwing out any surprises but every time I talk with Chris I feel like I could spend hours on the phone with him because we think so similarly. You are very much of a systemic person as a leader and I too love the world of systems and see the impact of it. The question I’m going to drop on you- is there any conversation about mirroring this in the non-sexual abuse world and having it in other areas of child abuse like physical abuse, neglect and things like that?
>> Chris: Absolutely Lori. We started off with child sexual abuse because that was kind of the prominent issue that was being driven and over the last even 20 years there has been this recognition that why are we discriminating against child who’ve experienced physical abuse? That’s a strong word to use but why are kids who experience sexual abuse receive one quality of intervention and those who experience others get another. Around the country you will find that CACs all over are much more involved in physical abuse than they used to be, especially where there’s severe physical abuse where there’s some type of injury. Think about it. We need to have an explanation about what happened, we need to have medical services. Physical abuse can cause emotional trauma as well. It doesn’t just happen with sexual abuse. The other thing we do is witness counseling. I’ve interviewed children who were the only witness to their mother’s murder. The only person who can tell us who did this is this child victim, or children who are witnessing a sibling’s murder, or another child injured. So we are frequently involved – in fact our protocol says any time there’s a child involved as a witness to a homicide, they’re brought to the CAC so we can do an interview with them and really try to elicit as much information as we can about what may have happened because it’s about helping to solve a crime. Obviously in the last 10 years there’s been a tremendous amount of attention on child trafficking, sexual exploitation, and we’ve been doing that work all along. We’ve been seeing those patients at CACs from the beginning of what we did where people are creating child sexual abuse images so yes there is dramatic diversification and if you look at the implementation in Sweden where they have more than 30 centers because any kind of physical discipline is illegal there. They have actually seen more cases involving physical abuse than sexual abuse.
>> Lori: Interesting. Wow. Well that’s another rabbit hole I could go down but I’m not going to, I’m going to keep us on track [laughs].
>> Chris: We said this would be an organic conversation and organic is what your listeners get.
>> Lori: I did promise that right? So that’s exactly what this is. I think the other piece is – child abuse and neglect on every level, from sexual abuse all the way to bullying, is something that so many people do not want to talk about. As a culture we’re beginning to talk more about things that are hard, things that elicit shame and fear and all of that. We’ve seen in so many other areas, in so many other topics how in the last 30 years those things have come into the light and there’s been a lot of change, all the way from service providers up to policymakers. There’s been a lot of change as our culture has become more and more wiling to discuss taboo conversations. For so long child abuse was something that we don’t talk about. We don’t talk about what happens in our home, let alone in somebody else’s home and there was this idea of kind of protecting the offenders right? So I’m just curious what your thoughts are and what drives you in that conversation and why do you do this work and why are you open and wiling to talk more about this and what are the benefits from your lens?
>> Chris: You know, first I completely agree. We have so many public health issues that benefit from eliminating or reducing the stigma around it. If you want to think about breast cancer or colorectal issues that may happen like prostate cancer, those are things that make people uncomfortable. There’s this idea that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The reality is – let’s take breast cancer for example. Now, there’s no stigma at all. If I go out to a breast cancer walk and if I have on a shirt that says I’m walking for breast cancer for my mother, I’m walking for Lori, I’m walking for my sister, I’m walking for myself, I’m walking for my daughter. No stigma at all. People say “oh I’m so sorry.” Now if we do a child abuse walk, and I go out there and say I’m walking for my mother, I’m walking for my sister or I’m walking for myself, suddenly this is a little bit different. We have not arrived at reducing the shame or the stigma. Part of it is because we have a long history as a nation of blaming children. Go back to the Salem Witch Trials when children were making false statements about adults and adults were punished. Ever since then we have a reluctance to believe that children are actually experiencing this. The reason I’m involved in working in CACs because I do have a moment. For me, I was working at a children’s hospital doing research half-time and therapy half-time. I was happy as a clam. Thought I was doing great work and my therapy work involved working with families where there was incest within the family so we provided services comprehensively for the offender or the non-offending caregiver or the victims or siblings that weren’t abused but were struggling with this whole situation. I will never forget this 13 year old girl. There was no CAC in the state where I lived at that time. I was sitting with her doing a session and said, “if I had to do it all over again I wish I hadn’t told anyone.” Now this is a 13 year old who was smart, extraordinarily athletic, gifted in every way. Popular, you looked at her and you’d think this kid had everything going for her. She had a family that had a nice home. They were very involved in the community. Dad had a good job. Everything was going their way and so I said that, after her father had sexually abused her a couple of times and she said she wished she’d never told anyone, a million thoughts went through my head. As we talked more about it she said what the system put me and my family through was worse than what my dad did. That was the moment, Lori. That was the moment that crystalized it. It should be that the actual abuse is the worst thing that can happen and everything subsequent to that is better, an improvement but here she is saying to me in these most simplistic terms that what the system did to me and my family is worse than what my dad did. At that moment I remember driving home that night saying to myself “I don’t know what I could do early on in the process but I want to be involved in that.” This was early in the days of the CACs and I had the opportunity to work, move and get a job at a CAC and I have been working in CACs ever since because I never want to have another kid say that. We owe it to them, we have a responsibility as adults and as the system to make sure that’s not the experience children have because it goes beyond child abuse just like you and I have talked about. This becomes a larger distrust of all things government, of society. It has a ripple impact on our nation’s health and economy. These are massive implications of this work and we better get it right.
>> Lori: Well you kind of just led right into my next question and that is, can you speak to the impact of child abuse and neglect. You and I have a very similar viewpoint and when I first talked to you after we hung up Dick asked if I got all of my analogies from you and I said I didn’t but we use the exact same ones [laughs]. A lot of our listeners on our podcast have heard the breast cancer conversation and prostate cancer and things like that because the conversations are the same. I love the way you described that. You’re a natural storyteller in the way you converse and I just love for our listeners to hear from your perspective what you see as that impact of this and the impact of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
>> Chris: I’m going to throw some appreciation to a former Board president and I’ll never forget we were standing just outside the elevator. We had just finished an executive committee meeting and he said to me, “Chris, you need a BHAG” so I said okay and he asked, “Do you know what a BHAG is?” and I didn’t so he said, “A BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” The more we began talking, we ended up standing there talking for a while, he asked why I do this. Why do I intervene in child abuse? I said because it’s the right thing to do and because children need healing. Then he asked what impact does that have and he kept pushing me and pushing me and he ultimately pushed me to the point I said earlier which is the reason we’re doing this, ultimately, it’s the right thing to do for kids but in broad context, at a macro level, this is about improving our nation’s health and our nation’s economy. Take a moment just to look at all the research on adverse childhood experiences and the impacts that has. An individual who experiences 4 or more ACEs is 460% more likely to experience depression, more than 1200% more likely to commit suicide. If they have 7 or more they’ll have a 20 year shorter lifespan. You look at Medicaid costs across America, that every state’s struggling with and 9% of all Medicaid costs are associated with child maltreatment. You want to talk about bringing down the costs of our health care system and bringing down the cost of Medicaid and reducing taxes? Let’s intervene in child abuse when the expense is a lot less than paying for more prisons, more health care facilities, more treatment facilities so the BHAG is this is way bigger than responding to child abuse. This is about improving our nation’s health and economy because child abuse unfortunately has a ripple effect through academic achievement, workplace stability, earning potential, divesting potential, all kinds of health outcomes. That’s why we do it, because every kid deserves the chance to live a full, satisfied and fulfilled life.
>> Lori: I would vote for you Chris [laughs]
>> Chris: I’m not running but I’m willing to serve.
>> Lori: You put it so well. I really appreciate your words and you insight and your capacity to just paint a picture. You certainly paint a picture for me. I’m a visual learner and I see it and I get it and it excites me and it drives me. I just want to thank you so much for talking with us and telling us what you do and help educate our listeners about ways they can get involved, how they can help spread the word. We can talk about it and really ultimately understanding about how big this is. It isn’t just about one child being hurt in their house, or one child and their parent or one child and an offender if it’s an external abuse case. It’s so much bigger than that and you did an exceptional job of explaining that for our listeners so I just want to thank you for being here and for your candidness.
>> Chris: Well you’re very welcome and I’d love to come back and do it again some time, Lori. I think that the science of hope is having a goal and having a pathway to be able to achieve that. Think about so many kids who don’t have the money to go to college and they lose hope in being able to get a college degree because they don’t see a pathway there. CACs are the pathways from the tragedy of child abuse to the hope of overcoming, that we can provide right away for children and families so they can move right to that healing place. That’s what really motivates us. It’s not the tragedy of the abuse, it’s the overcoming and being able to live a long, happy and fulfilled life. That’s what we desire for our patients, to put them on that journey.
>> Lori: That is beautiful. It really is and people ask all the time, “how do you do this work? How do you continue in it?” To me it sounds like a similar response to what you just said. For me it’s about the hope because it is so beautiful to watch somebody take their experiences and weave it into their lives and find ways of informing what they don’t want to do and expanding what they do want to do. I just think that’s so neat and there is a lot of hope and I appreciate your work and what you do. We’ll have you back for sure that’s no question. So ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to us today. This is the Louder Than Silence podcast. I’m Lori Poland and our amazing guest speaker today is Chris Newlin. Chris tell our listeners today real quick where they can find out more about CACs
>> Chris: Thanks Lori. You can look up our website at www.nationalcac.org or for individuals all over the country I encourage you to go to Google and type in “children’s advocacy center” and the name of your town and reach out to them, learn a little bit about what they’re doing and let them know if nothing else that you support them and you appreciate the work they’re doing. That is very inspiring so I encourage people to reach out and learn a little bit about what’s happening right there in their community to help serve children.
>> Lori: Great. Thanks again Chris. Thanks everybody, have a wonderful day.
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact email@example.com. Thanks again, and have a great day.