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Program Spreads Hope, Health and Healing for Abused Children and Teens

September 08, 2021

The eighth-grader knew she needed to tell someone. She turned to her school guidance counselor and revealed her uncle had touched her inappropriately the night before. How could she go home?

Several blocks away, a teenage girl was sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend. Traumatized, she would later tell a counselor during therapy she was unsure if she could ever attend college.

Today, thanks to services provided through Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s Center for Youth & Families and its Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut (CAIT NW), both girls have matured into young women who attend college and are living happy, productive lives.

The center, an accredited Child Advocacy Center, professional mental health agency and Enhanced Care Clinic, assists children, adolescents and their families with emotional, behavioral, developmental and family difficulties. The center is part of Hartford Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Network that provides mental health treatment and recovery services across the spectrum from childhood to seniors.

Child Advocacy Center

“Our services are unique to Northwest Connecticut, and we are the only Child Advocacy Center in the Hartford HealthCare network of providers,” said Joan Neveski, LCSW, Clinical Manager of the Center for Youth and Families.

The Center for Youth and Families Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut was founded in 1997 after being awarded a grant from the Department of Children and Families. In 1999, the Center for Youth & Families was accredited by the National Children’s Alliance as a Child Advocacy Center. A Child Advocacy Center is a child-focused, facility-based program that strives to create a safe place for support and healing. Child Advocacy Center models for child abuse intervention are proven and effective, bringing together trained, multidisciplinary professionals, located in a safe and family-friendly agency, to investigate and provide medical and mental healthcare as well as support to child victims of abuse.

In September 2005, the Center for Youth & Families and Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut were evaluated by the National Children’s Alliance and received re-accreditation status as a Child Advocacy Center, and has continued to maintain that accreditation status in five-year increments. There are eight Child Advocacy Centers in the state and over 900 nationally.

“We are proud to say that we were reevaluated in June 2021 by the National Children’s Alliance and received a recommendation for re-accreditation when the board meets in October 2021,” said Neveski.

The Center’s interdisciplinary team of licensed and master’s-level therapists, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse and master’s-level prepared interns offers diagnostic evaluations, community services and education and psychotherapy treatment, as well as provides specialized child forensic interviews and trauma treatment for children who have disclosed abuse.

“We are woven together by community agencies and professionals who come together to help reduce a trauma victim’s experience,” said Neveski. “Everything we do is designed to support the child and family.”

As a Child Advocacy Center, the Center for Youth and Families offers child-focused, trauma-informed, facility-based programs that create a safe place for support and healing. The center’s approach begins with a thorough and sensitive evaluation of the “whole” child, in the context of the family, school and the community. The center works closely with schools, guidance counselors, community providers and area pediatricians. The Child Advocacy Center also provides forensic interviewing services and medical evaluations, victim advocacy and support, specialized mental health services and trauma treatment as well as community education and outreach.

Child Advocacy Center benefits include improved investigation and prosecution of serious physical and sexual abuse cases because of agency collaboration and on-site forensic interviews. Medical evaluations are also now conducted at the Center for Youth & Families in Torrington as the result of collaboration and a grant to Connecticut Children’s.

Child Abuse Investigation Team

Cases similar to the ones described above are among the approximately 100 cases tracked annually by the Child Advocacy Center’s Child Abuse Investigation Team. The team, which meets twice a month, includes trained, multidisciplinary professionals who investigate and provide medical and mental healthcare as they support child abuse victims. Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut partners include representatives from the Center for Youth & Families, the Susan B. Anthony Project, Department of Children and Families, Litchfield State’s Attorney’s Office, Superior Court Juvenile Matters, Litchfield Judicial District, state and local police, and local mental health agencies.

At each meeting, the team discusses five or six new cases and reviews another 15 cases in progress, after which the prosecution presents 10 to 12 cases in court. The team’s responsibilities include attempting to reduce additional trauma or re-victimization for the child and non-offending family members, minimizing the number of interviews for the child, organizing and facilitating medical and mental health services, coordinating and tracking referrals and recommending ongoing services. The team also offers educational programs to the community and other professionals to increase awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse physical abuse, neglect and domestic violence.

“The primary benefit of CAIT NW is that victims and their families receive the full attention of a dozen or more people,” said Torrington Police Det. Kevin Tieman, a team member. “It keeps us on target, and we make sure all the bases are covered. Victims and families receive excellent customer service from the police department, making cases that much stronger. For the most part, because of the multidisciplinary team and our process, the defense would rather plea out a case than go to court. The Torrington Police Department has had great success in the prosecution of cases because of the multidisciplinary process.”

Anne Malisk, child sexual assault advocate with the Susan B. Anthony Project, and Tashyia Beard, a Center for Youth & Families Case Manager, both members of Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut, meet with child victims and non-offending family members during the initial forensic interviews. They offer support, answers questions, informs them of available resources and connect them with appropriate community agencies.

“I help team members see things from a victim’s viewpoint,” Malisk said. “I help shed light on why someone might be reacting in a certain way. There is no standard reaction to abuse—people react to situations based on their personal experiences. “

“As a team, we educate each other in whatever ways are needed in order to better help the child victim and family,” she said. “Members of the team have different roles and missions according to their discipline, but we support each other and respect each other’s roles. Helping the child and family to heal and move forward is our end game.”

A Family of Services

Neveski said, “All the people involved are on the same page. Every case is different, and we do everything to wrap our services around the child abuse victim and non-offending family members. We are unique in that we are not only an outpatient clinic. As a Child Advocacy Center, we have many different ways to intervene and keep the family in a good place while the children are trying to work through trauma symptoms and heal.”

Besides the Child Abuse Investigation Team of Northwest Connecticut and outpatient treatment, which provides a variety of evidence-based treatment services, the Center’s family of services includes SAFE (Supportive Assessments Fast and Effective), Charlotte’s Place (outreach/support and advocacy), Connections (a program to help children on the autism spectrum and their families), Nuestra Comunidad (services for Spanish-speaking community members), Bridges-Extended Day Treatment (intensive group therapy for children ages 6-12) and Child First (an intensive home-based program for Parents and children 0-6).

As part of the Child Advocacy Center, the Center for Youth & Families provides services for victims of crime through the VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) Program, Charlotte’s Place. The outpatient clinical team provides specialized evidence-based trauma treatment though, TFCBT (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) CFTSI (Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention), ARC (Assessment Regulation and Competence) and MATCH (Modular Approach to Therapy for Children with Anxiety, Depression, Trauma or Conduct Problems). The clinical team regularly collaborates with schools, DCF, other community providers, pediatric offices, and all others involved with clients to build a community of support around the child and family to ensure success.

“The Child Advocacy Center is unique in that it is an all-in-one facility to help children, adolescents and their families with the added benefit of CAIT NW,” said Det. Tieman. “The center is a great asset to the area because of not only how it assists children and families, but how it assists police departments. Plus, it is located in downtown Torrington, so it is easily accessible. We pride ourselves in being active participants in our local, statewide, and network committees and councils.”

Said Neviski, “Our belief is that “It takes a village,” to support our children and families as well as to be the voice of those who have not found theirs yet. We strive to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of all those who enter our doorway, and trust us to hold their remarkable stories and experiences. We are amazed daily by the remarkable strength of the children and families we serve, and that every moment matters from the first phone call to the celebration at the end of our work together!”

The Center for Youth and Families, at 50 Litchfield St. in Torrington, is partially funded by the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Office of Victim Services, and the National Children’s Alliance. For more information or to make a referral, call 860.489.3391 or click here.