The Lewis and Clark County Child Advocacy Center of AWARE in Helena, Montana, responds to children who are victims of sexual abuse. The center brings together a team of compassionate professionals from Lewis and Clark County who consult, interview, and evaluate each case to determine prosecution and reduce traumatization of children.
Nationally, studies show that one in 10 kids are sexually abused before the age of 18. In 2020, the CAC helped more than 200 children in Lewis and Clark County.
Child advocacy center (CAC) team motto: “We can’t change what happened, but we can change what happens next.”
CAC Advocate Highlight
Ciara Stout (pictured), CAC Child Advocate, is a member of this team that includes mental health, law enforcement, prosecution, medical, child protection, and other multidisciplinary specialists. She has been part of this team since 2017 and offers another layer of support as an advocate for both the child and parents or guardians throughout the process and beyond.
“Communities that have CACs are fortunate because of the increased level of care and attention that families get,” Ciara said. “I’m proud that AWARE has been part of making it a possibility for Helena.”
Often, Ciara is the first contact at the CAC once the parents or guardians have visited with law enforcement or child protective services. Support begins with listening and learning about the situation. Ciara takes a personal approach to each case and often answers hard questions and listens to concerns.
“I see strength and resilience in the parents and kids,” she said. “I am impressed all the time.”
Once this initial intake is in place, she schedules an interview with the team. The unique CAC interview process separates the child from the team. A video camera is discreetly placed in the room where the child is interviewed, and the video is streamed into a conference room where the CAC team can watch and offer their guidance to the case. The purpose of this type of interview is to help decrease trauma to the child.
Ciara continues to connect with the parents and children after the interview. Often she checks in and follows up, especially when a case goes to court. As an advocate, she is in a position to bridge the gap between the family and court.
Ciara says she helps them become familiar with the process, translates legal jargon to help families understand, and facilitates connections between professionals and families. For example, if a court date is set on a child’s birthday, she will help schedule another day.
“It helps them feel cared for,” Ciara said.
Going to court with the child is another way Ciara supports those who are served through the CAC. Overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse takes time. Ciara has found that testifying is one way kids find healing in the process. Children often state that they feel better because they were able to tell their truth, she said.
Recently, a child who Ciara worked with more than two years ago visited her. She found the child had overwhelmingly improved during the last couple years and was happy for her success.
“It is an honor to walk with them through their worst nightmares and to sit and work with them through it,” she said.
For more information about the services provided by the Lewis and Clark County Child Advocacy Center of AWARE, please call 406.449.3120.