ChicagoCAC’s Family Advocates ensure that children and families get the culturally sensitive support, education and resources they need to help them overcome the trauma of abuse. Yolanda Temblador, Bilingual Family Advocacy Supervisor, shares how the advocacy and interview process works for families and some of the moments that stay with her from her time at ChicagoCAC.
As advocates, our job is to explain to families what they’re about to experience and help them feel more comfortable when they visit ChicagoCAC. We want families to understand that the advocate is there to support them. We will be with them throughout the visit, as well as give them follow-up calls the next day and in the coming weeks to see how they are feeling after their child’s interview, and if they have any other needs or concerns.
We are some of the first people families meet when they visit the center. Even if caregivers don’t realize it yet, they have empowered themselves and their child by walking through our front door. Children are often nervous, so we show them the “pod”, or the room where forensic interviews happen. We let them know they will get a chance to meet their interviewer and ask them any questions they might have beforehand.
While the child is interviewed, the advocate meets with the caregiver for a needs screening to see if there are any issues like money, housing or food that we can help the family address. We also look for any mental health concerns the family might have, or any other traumas they have had in the past. And we ask about the child’s mental health, if they noticed any changes with the child since the incident–even how their school work is–particularly if there’s been suicidal thoughts or self-harm concerns.
Some parents say right away that they want mental health services for their child, and we’ll refer them to our Centralized Wait List. Other times people will want a chance to think about whether they want those services or not. We tell them that even if they don’t want help right now, in six months, a year from now…if they want help, we will provide that help.
After the interview, the caregivers will likely speak with DCFS and CPD. While that happens, a Child Life professional will work with the kids, maybe playing games or watching a movie or doing little projects. We try to make the family as comfortable as possible while they wait. Sometimes we have families that are there a long time, so we see about getting them a meal rather than just snacks. We know this isn’t an easy process.
One advocate sees several families per day. There are also emergencies that come in in addition to scheduled interviews, so we have to accommodate those. We are the liaison between the family and the different groups that make up ChicagoCAC’s multi-team response. Every morning, we meet with a person from each team at the Center–the medical clinic, State’s Attorney, DCFS, the Chicago Police Department–and run through the cases coming up that day to see how we can best support those families.
Some cases stay with me. A middle aged couple brought in their daughter, who had been abused by the father’s brother. The wife did most of the talking and answering questions. You could see on his face how uncomfortable this was for the father, and I remember that I looked at him and I said, directly, “How are you? Because I know this is your brother and I know this is hard for you. You’re here backing up your child and this is so wonderful, because this is what she is going to remember.” One tear came down his face and he said, ‘yes, thank you’.
Even through these terrible, horrific situations that they’re facing, most families will find the strength to do what they have to do. But we’ll have other cases where people are so reluctant to confront what’s happened. You’ll have a mom where it’s so hard for her to admit even to herself that her husband–or the stepfather, the man that she has married–had done this awful thing. I think on many levels—as a mother, as a wife, as the man’s partner–this can affect a woman.
And even though our team can see it, this person is not in a place where they can see things as they are. You can give these people all the help that you can, but in the end it’s their process and we have to respect that it’s a process. Whether the parent believes their child’s story or doesn’t, our team will do what we can do to move every case forward.
When I was fairly new, there was a case where three generations of women had been victimized by the same person, the grandmother’s partner, in the same time period. When I came back to meet with them, the grandmother and the mother were hugging each other, and the child was hugging onto her mother’s legs, crying because she saw her mother and grandmother crying. Three generations of women were crying all at once. Seeing how this had affected them was so hard to grapple with, but I just took a breath and let that professional part of me kick in.
I put my hand on their shoulders and stayed there until they were calm. I told them about the services that we had and that they were not alone, that they had our team working with them. It’s truly powerful to be able to tell families that every single person they meet at ChicagoCAC is there to help them, and I’m glad I have the chance to do that.