The following is an excerpt from the March/April 2017 issue of Children’s Advocacy Center of Texas THE VICTIM’S ADVOCATE. Sonya, Lead Family Advocate at Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County, is featured in the article, A Day in the Life.
Sonya Shares from Her Heart
No two days in the life of a Family Advocate are the same. We work with many families whose lives have been forever changed by the abuse their child has endured; each family and each family member processes this differently, reacts differently and has different needs. But, for all, they are forever changed. It is my job as a family advocate to walk with them, to be a resource for them and to be strong for them through the process of their child’s and their family’s healing.
There are no words that appropriately describe what a family goes through when their child has been sexually or physically abused. Often the primary financial supporter of a family is the perpetrator, which results in an immediate loss of income, insurance, transportation, and perhaps even the family home. There are cases where a sibling is the perpetrator, causing the family to be dismantled and the children to be separated.
When families are referred to our advocacy center, it is our job to assess their needs with emergency resources including counseling services, medical care, housing, employment, clothing, and other basic living needs. Depending on the family’s situation, I provide referrals and coordination of additional family and social services.
Most often, when a child is scheduled for a forensic interview, I am notified of the appointment and briefed on the family’s history and the child’s disclosure. However, there are times that I meet with the family or protective caregiver and do not know anything about the case. The caregiver often comes in filled with uncertainty having been referred to the CAC by a law enforcement agency or CPS. It is my responsibility to provide neutral ground for the family. The emotional state of those involved in the cases we work range from one extreme to another, and it is my responsibility to calm them so they will better understand what I am explaining to them regarding the next step for their child.
Prior to the forensic interview, the protective caregiver completes paperwork allowing us to conduct the interview and providing information about the family dynamics and history. This guides me in understanding what resources I am able to help them with and allows me to assist the interviewer, law enforcement and CPS with their fact finding in the case. After the child finishes the interview, I conduct a follow-up meeting with the caregiver while law enforcement and CPS explain what the next step will be for their family. Once that meeting is complete, I strongly encourage the family to accept our offer for free counseling. If the case becomes a criminal case, I continue to work with the family when the court date is near and act as a liaison between the family and law enforcement agencies and/or CPS.
The family may become frustrated when they feel their case isn’t moving fast enough or not getting enough attention. At this juncture, I spend time with the family to restore them to a point of calmness and understanding. I gather information from the partnering agencies and relay it to the family to keep them updated with the progress of their case. Some days are spent helping prepare clients for court through our “Kids in Court” program that allows me to educate the child on the expectations of the courtroom so they are fully prepared to face their perpetrator. In addition to my assistance, Smith County has a court appointed dog, Petra, who is allowed to go into the court room with the child while they testify.
I am often asked how I mentally handle doing this job every day. My response is that when a family walks through our door, I know they are taking their first steps towards healing. Being a part of the team that guides the family from their child’s outcry of abuse to the child’s graduation from therapy and hopefully, to justice in the legal system, fuels my soul to give all that I have to support and advocate for these children and their families.
My favorite part of being an advocate is when a child specifically asks for me during their therapy sessions or graduation and depends on me in court. If the protective caregiver is unable to be with them during the trial, I provide strength and encouragement. What has happened to them does not define who they are or who they will become, and I am blessed to assist them on their journey of healing.
I believe I provide a sense of security and comfort to caregivers as they desperately try to find their way through their darkest days. I provide a clear mind to help them make the right decisions and encourage them when they feel like all hope is lost. Sometimes it is a phone call, an unexpected visit, an email or simply a hug or pat on their back.
I know I am serving my purpose when I am with my families and advocating for their child. There is nowhere else I would rather be.