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National Evaluation of Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs)

Summary: This muti-year, multi-site evaluation will study the efficacy of children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) for improving investigations and reducing harmful effects on children and families. The study will also examine the effects of different CAC components (e.g. multidisciplinary teams, child-friendly facilities) and types of CACs. Several CAC agencies across the United States have been selected to participate in this evaluation.


Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) are endorsed as the “state of the art” intervention for effective, sensitive investigation of allegations of child abuse. The core element of CACs, the multidisciplinary investigation team, is used in hundreds of communities across the country. Those familiar with CACs believe that the centers have a wide array of positive effects, from reducing stress on children and families, to increasing the yield in accuracy and information of investigations, to promoting more effective criminal justice and human service responses. Yet the impact of CACs has never been adequately evaluated, and the research knowledge base about CACs is limited.


The Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC) of the University of New Hampshire has begun a, multi-site evaluation to study how CACs work and in what ways they are effective. The study will examine the overall effect of CACs as well as the effects of different program components and types of CACs. It will assess the impact of CACs on children, families, agencies, the court system and communities.


Sites consist of a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) community with a matched comparison non-CAC community. Comparison communities are comparable to the CC community in every way except that they lack the key elements of a CAC that are thought to change the nature and outcomes of child abuse investigations. The participating CACs across the country are:


n      Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, Dallas, TX
n      The Family Intervention Center, Children’s Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA
n      The Low Country Children’s Center, Charleston, SC
n      The National Children’s Advocacy Center, Huntsville, AL


With support from the College of Criminal Justice of Sam Houston State University, the Collins County Children’s Advocacy Center in Plano, Texas is also participating.


We have recently finished the initial phase of the project, the Evaluability Assessment. An evaluability assessment (EA) examines the readiness of an organization, system or community for an evaluation. With regard to the CAC evaluation, EA will be used to assess whether human services and law enforcement agencies in the sites can provide sufficient data of adequate quality to insure a conceptually sound, rigorous, statistically powerful evaluation.


During the Evaluability Assessment we completed the following, which may be of interest or use to you, we only ask that you credit the information to the proper source.


n      The development of a site specific Logic Model which represents a capsule, a graphical way to depict the theory underlying CACs. This can help guide evaluation research design, and data analysis. Logic Models will vary across sites, depending on the nature of the site;


n      A draft listing of all Case Data variables we are seeking from client information systems, which we call the Data Dictionary. CACs and investigating agencies already collect in their practice much of the data needed by our study in their client information systems (CIS) or paper files. This information includes:


         Family demographic and background characteristics
         Information on the nature of the alleged abuse
         Disclosure and investigation characteristics
         Characteristics of the CAC and other agency investigations
         Information on the criminal justice and child protective response;
         Information on the services provided to the families


n      A paper-and-pencil survey conducted by CCRC about the importance of different outcomes in each site area has been conducted which we have named the Outcome Survey. This allows us to know in more detail what outcomes each community values from its CAC. A sample size of N=69 has been evaluated and Outcome Survey Results are available on-line.


Currently, we will begin a Prospective Evaluation of the sites shortly. In order to keep the CAC community and other interested individuals current on the progress of the National Evaluation, we will periodically update this site with information about the evaluation and links to documents that we think might be helpful in understanding the project.


Additionally, we have provided a link to an annotated bibliography of references that we have compiled related to issues of interest to CAC stakeholders. This list represents, in our minds, the research and reviews that are most informative on such topics as child abuse investigations, the role and response of criminal justice in child maltreatment, medical evaluations of child abuse, effects of prosecution on child victims, children’s testimony, and multidisciplinary teams. We hope that you find this useful.


Logic Model Data Dictionary

Outcome Survey Annotated Bibliography

Outcome Survey Results


For more information, contact:

Theodore Cross
Crimes Against Children Research Center
126 Horton Social Science Center
Durham, NH 03824
Ph: (603) 862-0576

Phone: 603-862-1888
Crimes Against Children Research Center
University of New Hampshire 126 Horton Social Science Center
Durham, NH 03824
Fax: 603-862-1122