The Cherish Center Advocates for Abused & Neglected Children
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography provided by The Cherish Center
“A lot of people don’t know what a child advocacy center is,” says Wendy Gamble, Founder & Executive Director of The Cherish Center. “Its role is to provide a child-friendly, safe, neutral location in which law enforcement and Child Protective Services investigators may conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are alleged victims of crimes.”
The Cherish Center is contracted to be the neutral party that coordinates and organizes the initial investigation of child abuse as the CAC model’s main objective is to reduce trauma to child victims by bringing all disciplines together and sharing information more efficiently to minimize duplication.
“The various teams come here so that the child doesn’t have to go to four or five different places to talk about what happened to them,” Gamble says. “We give the child and non-offending family members support, crisis intervention and referrals for mental health and medical treatment.”
These child abuse cases cost roughly $1,200 per incident to investigate absent a CAC. The Cherish Center has served more than 2,900 cases since 2009, Gamble estimates that they’ve saved the county more than $4 million through their coordinating efforts. Located on the campus of River View Hospital, The Cherish Center is only partially funded by grants and the state, which means that 60-65 percent of their operating funds come from donations and fundraisers. Every summer the organization hosts a fundraising breakfast where they acknowledge some of the 200-plus multi-disciplinary team members — law enforcement officers, child protective service personnel, prosecutors, advocates, mental health therapists, medical personnel and sexual assault specialists.
“The breakfast shows how many people it actually takes to do an investigation for child abuse,” says Gamble, noting that proceeds from the annual breakfast goes toward the therapy and trauma program. “Any children lacking insurance will receive top-of-the-line trauma care thanks to this fundraiser.”
In November, The Cherish Center hosted a Death by Chocolate event with an art auction, wine pull and raffle. Money raised went to both trauma care and operational expenses. The event included vendors such as Four Day Ray, The Pint Room, Divvy, Ruth’s Chris, Heavenly Sweets, Krenolies Donuts, Bake Shape & Decorate, Woody’s Library, Urban Vines, Monarch Beverages, A Cut Above Catering, Cooper’s Hawk, Sun King Brewery, JoJo’s Crownies and Schakolad Chocolate Factory.
“This is a tough field to be in, so we wanted to do something fun and light-hearted to raise money,” Gamble says.
The Cherish Center is so valuable because years ago, a child might recount their difficult story to a handful of people, then not hear anything for several months. A lengthy time gap introduces many issues for victims.
“Four or five months to a 7-year-old feels like two years, and that says to a child, ‘What happened to you isn’t important,’” Gamble says. “We know that absent The Cherish Center getting everybody to the table, there would be more repeat victims whose situations weren’t getting addressed.”
The CAC model decreases repeat victimization and trauma-related issues by bringing everyone together at once to assess needs and deliver recommendations.
“Within 30 days, we’ve placed kiddos in therapy,” says Gamble, noting that The Cherish Center is the only CAC in the state that provides trauma care of its kind as part of their healing process.
Trauma care is crucial.
“Broken bones and bruises heal, but the psychological trauma from abuse or neglect can be hardest to heal and overcome,” says local law enforcement Officer Michael Haskett. “It’s been my experience that without the proper trauma-based therapy, it’s not uncommon to work multiple cases over years with the same victim. The trauma-based therapy provided by The Cherish Center continues to be invaluable in the healing process for victims and their family.”
For more information, visit cherishcac.org.