Five years after it opened as a safe, secure place where physically or sexually abused children can meet privately with a specially trained forensic interviewer while a family advocate meets with caregivers, Chesterfield’s Davis Child Advocacy Center (CAC) has been accredited by the National Children’s Alliance.
Staff were notified of the facility’s accreditation late last month, concluding an exhaustive multiyear process that required partnership with the other agencies that comprise its multidisciplinary teams: the police department, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, Social Services, Mental Health Support Services, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Victim-Witness Assistance Programs and the Violence Response Team at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital.
“It wasn’t just the CAC, it was the whole team that got accredited,” said Jenelle Beverly, the center’s director. “Every agency had to do something outside of its regular duties to meet the standards. That level of commitment really helped solidify that everybody is bought in to our shared mission.
“That’s the beauty of our team – no one agency can do everything. We need each other. Nobody can do it by themselves,” she added. “That’s the piece we’ve focused on as we recognize we all bring different strengths.”
The Davis CAC has conducted more than 1,400 forensic interviews of children since it opened in January 2018. That number was 384 during fiscal year 2022.
To meet rising demand for its services, the facility’s staff has expanded to four full-time and two part-time employees. They’re part of multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) in Chesterfield and Powhatan counties and the city of Colonial Heights.
Chesterfield’s MDT is by far the largest of the three, with 65 members, most of whom are employed by the county government.
While the center has interagency agreements with each of the localities that define best practices, protocols and operating procedures for the respective MDTs, forensic interviewer Lisa Johnston noted collaboration is critical to successfully investigating and prosecuting incidents of child sexual or physical abuse.
“We have to have open, effective communication between team members in different disciplines,” she said. “Sometimes people have very strong opinions about the way things should go and we’re not always going to agree. There’s a lot of trust involved.”
Beverly submitted the CAC’s 1,000-page application for accreditation to the National Children’s Alliance last June. The organization sent two representatives to Chesterfield in October to conduct a day-long site review, during which they met with employees from each of the MDT agencies, then observed both a leadership meeting and a review of every new case that had come into the center over the past month.
Following an exit interview, one of the site reviewers notified Beverly by email that the CAC had met all standards and was being recommended for accreditation. Among their findings, they cited “mutual respect,” “strong relationships” and “collaboration between partner agencies.”
“I am so proud of our Child Advocacy Center staff and all of our partners on the multidisciplinary team for a truly collaborative effort in achieving national accreditation,” said Marilyn Brown, Chesterfield’s director of Juvenile Justice Services, who oversees the CAC. “A tremendous amount of work was done in conjunction with the hard work our CAC staff and MDT partners do every day in protecting our most vulnerable citizens. The county is so lucky to have Jenelle and her team doing this work, and I am grateful to be part of a community that truly values the CAC as a best practice model for serving victims of sexual and extreme physical abuse.”
The National Children’s Alliance’s board of directors approved the Davis CAC’s accreditation at its meeting last month. Beverly and Johnston agreed it’s validation of all the “sweat and tears” that have been spent at the facility over the past five years.
“Without the CAC model, all of the agencies can be operating in their own silo,” Beverly said. “We realize we’re all cogs on the same wheel. We all are impacted by what the other does. Having that level of accountability to one another moved us away from a ‘stay in your lane’ mentality because there is no one lane. We’re all in this car together, going to the same destination.”