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MN Small Towns Learn New Approach to Helping Abused Children

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A new approach to investigating child sexual abuse should better equip small towns to deal with the problem. (First Witness)
A new approach to investigating child sexual abuse should better equip small towns to deal with the problem. (First Witness)
 By Laurie SternContact
July 24, 2017

DULUTH, Minn. – A conference today in Duluth brings together police, lawyers, social workers and doctors for a new approach to helping victims of child sexual abuse.

Instead of dealing separately with various agencies and professionals, victims are interviewed only one time. A video of that interview is used by anyone working on the case, and services are made available to victims and their families.

It sounds simple, but the practice is informed by lots of research and a growing number of formal agreements among agencies to work together.

Lori Young, the training director of the Duluth nonprofit, First Witness Child Advocacy Center, says the practice is especially important for rural areas.

"When it's in a smaller community it's very likely that the child that comes forward, that investigator knows the family," she says. "And so, we really need to engage people to respond to their children and their families in their community. And this conference really gives them, I think, that confidence to be able to do that."

The conference is part of a growing national movement to establish more Children's Advocacy Centers or CACs - a kind of one-stop shop where the interviews take place. There are more than 800 around the country, and there will soon be 12 in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Children's Alliance is one of the conference sponsors.

Executive Director Marcia Milliken says, while advocacy centers are well-established on the coasts, the idea is just ramping up in the Midwest.

"There are many locations in Minnesota that now have local access to the services, where previously they would have had to drive a distance to get that," says Milliken.

Children's advocates say no one should have more than an hour's drive to reach a CAC. They still have work to do to make that happen in the northeastern and northwestern corners of the state.

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