To continue to improve the lives of children in Alachua County, the Child Advocacy Center of Gainesville has moved into a new building off of East University Avenue. The CAC protects, advocates and supports children ages 0-18 who have been subjected to violent home environments. It moved into the new space in June 2017 and has already made tremendous improvements from the old building.
In a centralized area of Gainesville and on a bus route, the new location makes it easier for children and families to get to the center for therapy sessions or to be questioned about their case. Other improvements that come with the new building include a one-way mirror for investigation into the abuse, buzzer doors, surveillance cameras and more offices for the staff. The new office is securely built to keep children safe and evokes a soothing, calming feel. With more windows and more space, there is also a more pleasant working experience for the staff.
“The new building is critical to the growth of services at the Child Advocacy Center,” said President and CEO Sherry Kitchens. “In order to serve more children when they need help, we need to be able to hire more staff and have more safe, child friendly areas for children to be served at the center.”
According to the staff, supporting and advising children in the CAC is rewarding but also challenging and heartbreaking. This can take a toll on the employees who dedicate their lives to helping kids overcome emotional and physical challenges.
The therapy section is separated from the forensic and investigative section in order to keep children calm when they are in therapy and focused when being interviewed. It takes up half of the new building, which is very important because it’s where the counselors are able to talk with survivors and work through their challenges.
Therapy rooms come with plenty of toys to soothe the children and give them a way to express themselves.
“Therapy will continue as long as is needed,” Kitchens said. “It’s usually weekly, but some children are seen more often if needed. There are no charges for the services at the Child Advocacy Center. Sometimes, children are referred directly for therapy, and sometimes, children need advocacy support, so some children don’t start with the forensic interviewing process.”
Every therapy room has a dollhouse, a play kitchen and small action figures. All of these items allow the children to demonstrate their home life to counselors. The toys are an easy tool for children to talk about what goes on at home without feeling like they are being interrogated.
Hank the Therapy Cat is also an important component of the building. Hank is meant to have a therapeutic effect on both the children and the staff who handle their cases.
The future goals for the CAC, according to Kitchens, are to transform the kitchen into a medical examination room and to have a permanent police officer and Florida Department of Children and Families worker on the property. Having even more services on site will reduce the number of services the children have to visit, and hopefully reduce their stress.
“The crux of the work is to help children heal in a safe, child-friendly place, and this is what we are committed to providing for children in our community,” Kitchens said.