We have no more sacred duty as parents, as neighbors and as a nation than the protection of our children.
Despite our best efforts, too many children in Delaware, Missouri, and around the country still fall victim to abuse, often at the hands of adults they trusted. We need to do everything we can to protect our children and, when they are harmed, deliver justice without inadvertently causing any further damage.
More than 20 years ago, Congress passed a landmark law, the Victims of Child Abuse Act, to partner with states in the funding of a network of innovative Children's Advocacy Centers – secure and comforting facilities that have become critical tools for our communities to deliver justice for child victims of abuse. That law expired in 2005, and the Obama Administration has zeroed-out or reduced funding for the centers in its last three budget requests.
We are determined to save these centers.
With our colleagues Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), in December, we introduced a bill to reauthorize the landmark Victims of Child Abuse Act. Last week, it passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we're looking forward to working together to make sure it is passed by the full Senate and the House of Representatives. Although we come from different parties and different states, we've seen the positive impact these centers have had in our communities.
Children's Advocacy Centers bring everyone together under one roof – law enforcement, prosecutors and child-service professionals – all focused on what's best for the child.
A specially trained forensic investigator interviews the child to learn what happened. Critically, they structure the conversation in a non-leading way so the testimony can be used later in court – preventing the need for a child to have to go through the re-traumatizing experience of telling his or her story on the witness stand. While prosecutors take the information obtained in the interview through the court system to bring justice for the victim, doctors, counselors, and other professionals ensure the child gets the help he or she needs to begin the healing process.
The results are impressive. The involvement of Children's Advocacy Centers has increased the prosecution of perpetrators, with one study showing an average 94 percent conviction rate for center cases that are carried forward to trial. Child victims of abuse who receive care at a center are more likely to receive medical exams and mental health treatment than children in communities without a center. Although no parent would ever want to need a Children's Advocacy Center, when they have, 97 percent say they would tell others to seek help at one if they need it.
In 2012, Children's Advocacy Centers helped nearly 300,000 kids get the care they needed, and put more of our society's worst criminals behind bars. By consolidating services, Children's Advocacy Centers are even saving taxpayers more than $1,000 per case in the process.
Our bipartisan bill would modestly increase federal support for Children's Advocacy Centers for the first time in 24 years to help centers keep up with growing demands for services and improve training programs for their remarkable staffs of caregivers. State and local governments, as well as private donors, would continue to provide their own funding support. The legislation would also provide opportunities to build Children's Advocacy Centers in some of the 1,000 American counties that currently lack access to these critical services.
We're lucky to have three Children's Advocacy Centers in Delaware and 22 in Missouri. Each time we visit one, we walk away struck by how strategically and thoughtfully the centers were put together to deliver justice without harming the long-term healing process.
No family should have to confront the horrors of abuse alone. Children's Advocacy Centers have transformed our nation's response to child abuse, giving families hope in their darkest moments and delivering justice to those who have endured the worst kind of abuse.
We cannot and should not go back a system that fails the most vulnerable children in our society. It's time for Congress to reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act.
Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Roy Blunt of Missouri co-chair the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus.