Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center

The Tulalip Tribes Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center coordinates criminal investigation and systems response to child abuse in the Tulalip Tribes. The Center collaborates with tribal, local, state, and federal law enforcement to respond on scene and provides services to child victims, including advocacy and therapy. The Center also coordinates preventive programs in the community to educate tribal members about child abuse and the services available to victims, including culturally relevant opportunities for healing.

Program Running Length: February 2009 – Present

Location: Tulalip Indian Reservation - Tulalip, Washington

Land Characteristics: The Tulalip Indian Reservation is located on 22,000 acres in a rural area north of Everett, Washington. The reservation is less than a one hour drive north from Seattle.

Reservation Population: The Tulalip Tribes of Washington have a total enrollment between 4,000 and 5,000 members. The Tulalip Indian Reservation has roughly 9,246 residents, of which 2,500 are tribal members. The tribal population is very young, with 38% of all members under the age of 18.

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BACKGROUND

Problem to be addressed

The Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center (the Center) was created in response to a lack of swift and effective services for child victims on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Before the creation of the Center, child victims of abuse on the Tulalip Indian Reservation were referred by tribal police to the tribe’s Indian Child Welfare Department. Although the tribal police responded to emergencies, police understaffing meant that referrals to victim services were often made long after the incident. These delays were especially problematic because the Indian Child Welfare Department accepted referrals primarily from the police and state CPS, not from other agencies. Although community members sometimes made referrals as well, those referrals didn’t necessarily lead to investigations. There was no coordinated response among child abuse professionals, and there was a lack of expertise in addressing severe child abuse.

For its part, the Indian Child Welfare Department lacked the resources and staff needed to adequately address victims’ needs. For example, the department could not conduct forensic interviews because it did not have trained staff or appropriate facilities. Victims were then referred to outside agencies for forensic interviews, if referred at all, where they often encountered scheduling delays and inadequate services. Many cases fell through the cracks—the gaps in the system were often exacerbated by jurisdictional issues endemic to Indian Country.

The lack of timely and effective services exacerbated the effects of trauma for child victims and compromised criminal investigations and prosecution of offenders. Moreover, there were few educational programs for professionals and community members about abuse and its impact on child victims, and the mechanics of mandated reporting of child abuse. Child victims on the reservation were in dire need of swift referrals, comprehensive services, and well-trained professionals to provide needed support.

Program History

In 2007, the tribe hired a program coordinator to lead the development and operation of a child advocacy center. This program, which started within the Indian Child Welfare program, would be independent of other tribal departments and would focus solely on the needs of child victims. It would bring together trained professionals to provide targeted services for child victims, and it would allow police to focus on investigating cases and pursuing offenders. The coordinator’s first task was to find allies in other departments, and she found them in the tribal police department. The lead detective’s primary concern was obtaining an in-house child forensic interviewer so that culturally relevant, timely interviews could be conducted on the reservation. Within the first year of planning, a group of tribal and non-tribal agencies formed a multi-disciplinary team that was charged with improving the coordination of services in child abuse and neglect cases.

The multi-disciplinary team included an FBI agent, an FBI Victim Specialist, tribal police, an Indian Child Welfare Department supervisor, and the program coordinator, who is an attorney by training. The multi-disciplinary team reviewed active child abuse and neglect cases at biweekly meetings. This team also created a case protocol that all of the tribal agencies signed in 2009.  The protocol outlined the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies comprising the multi-disciplinary team and the case flow process for victim support and advocacy services.

The multi-disciplinary team’s biweekly case reviews successfully improved child victims’ access to services. Nonetheless, the team felt that more could be done. In 2009, a grant enabled the center to hire a child forensic interviewer and a child advocate. The coordinator managed the grant and provided direct services to children as the Child Advocate. Center staff responded to emergencies onsite, supported victims as they participated in forensic interviews, and connected victims with services swiftly.

Services expanded to provide victims support throughout the life of a case, including court tours, pre-trial advocacy, accompanying victims while testifying at trial, and assisting with victim impact statements. A child-friendly forensic interview room was also constructed. Meetings of the multi-disciplinary team continued to ensure a collaborative approach and steady improvement in the quality and expediency of services provided to victims. The Center began accepting referrals from a broad range of sources, not just the tribal police and state CPS.
 

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PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Program Goals and Objectives

The Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center (the Center) strives to provide effective and culturally-competent services to child victims of sexual abuse and physical abuse and prevent re-victimization during the investigation and prosecution process. The Center also aims to support effective criminal investigations so that offenders can be held accountable for their crimes against Tulalip children. In addition, the Center seeks to: provide professional training on child abuse, empower community members to respond effectively to child abuse, and reduce incidents of sexual violence against children through prevention programs in local schools. Lastly, the program offers victims culturally relevant opportunities for healing through therapy and healing circles.

Program Design

The Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center provides a range of services:

  • Prevention: The Center offers educational programs such as radKIDS, a school-based awareness and empowerment program based on a model developed by a former police officer with funding from the federal Office on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. radKIDS addresses bullying, child abuse, abduction, drugs, and sexual abuse. It is delivered during the regular school day and co-taught by a local police officer and the center’s two forensic interviewers. A separate evidence-based prevention program, called Stewards of Children, trains adults in identifying abuse, mandated reporting, and shared stewardship of children.
  • Direct Response: The Center’s direct response services include: responding on scene with tribal police, transporting victims to forensic interviews and forensic medical exams, preparing children to testify, accompanying children to tribal, state, and federal court, and helping children prepare victim impact statements. Center staff also serve as a point of contact for the families of victims throughout the criminal case process. Additionally, the Center has provided courtesy forensic interviews for county sheriffs who are investigating crimes against tribal children and for neighboring tribes seeking culturally competent forensic interviews.
  • Healing: The Center offers evidence-based mental health services to children and their caregivers using highly-trained child therapists. The therapists primarily utilize a Native adaptation of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). To prepare for this new program, Center staff participated in Project Making Medicine, a national training program for tribal mental health professionals in the prevention and treatment of child abuse. In addition, the Center uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in appropriate cases.

With grant funding, the Center worked with consultants to bring adult healing circles to the community, focusing on creating sustainable, community-based capacity to offer healing from childhood trauma to adults in the Tulalip community. In addition to healing circles, the Center encourages families to engage in healing with their own cultural and spiritual healers. Staff also burn sage and pray after forensic interviews, with the client’s permission.

  • Multi-Disciplinary Team: The Center hosts meetings of the tribe’s multi-disciplinary team, which includes tribal and federal law enforcement, victim services, prosecutors, and probation, along with medical and mental health specialists. The team meets to review open cases, coordinate services, and provide advanced training opportunities for allied professionals.

Program Administration

The Center has a four-person staff that includes a Center coordinator, a child therapist, a child advocate, and a part-time child forensic interviewer. The coordinator serves as a backup child advocate, responding on scene when called by the detectives. The Center also has a backup child forensic interviewer specialist, provided by the tribal police department, who volunteers part-time but is not on the Center’s payroll. The Center is housed in what was formerly the police station. Organizationally, the Center comes under the umbrella of the tribe’s behavioral health department.

Case Flow Process

Eligibility Criteria

The Center offers services to any Native child, regardless of tribal enrollment status or residency, who is the victim of suspected sexual abuse or severe physical abuse. In addition, the Center does not turn away youth over 18 who are in need of services, especially in cases involving developmental disability.

Referral Process

The Center receives most of its referrals from the tribe’s Indian Child Welfare Department. The Center’s coordinator reviews each referral and determines whether to contact tribal police for possible criminal investigation, erring on the side of forwarding referrals to law enforcement for review. The Center then reaches out to victims to offer services and to the social worker investigating the case, who sometimes seeks CPS-only (non-criminal) forensic interviews.

The Center also receives referrals directly from tribal police. When police receive an incident report involving a child victim, they immediately contact the Center to coordinate a response. A Center staff member meets police at the scene, makes contact with the victim, and offers to connect the victim with services through the Center. The staff member may explain the process of forensic interviewing and forensic examination, and support the victim in giving a statement to police or to the forensic interviewer, depending on the age of the victim.   

Termination Criteria

The Center does not formally terminate cases. Cases remain assigned to a victim advocate indefinitely, although cases can be closed when the child becomes old enough to receive adult services, no longer lives in the area, or refuses services. The most common long-term service utilized is mental health treatment, which is offered on-site. The Center’s therapists also offer group therapy at the high school on the reservation, and some former clients participate.

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PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION

Funding

The Center was launched in 2009 with funding from the federal Office for Victims of Crime. In the years since, the Center has been sustained and expanded with funding from the Office on Violence against Women and other federal sources. The tribe uses its own funds to pay for some of the Center’s staffing costs and provides the office space for the program.

Technical Assistance

Dolores Subia BigFoot, child psychologist and former director of Project Making Medicine, trained Center staff to use her Native adaptation of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Unified Solutions Group provided technical assistance as part of the tribe’s grant from the Office for Victims of Crime. The Tribal Law & Policy Institute provided resources for protocol development and for the development of Multi-Disciplinary Teams. Personal mentorship from individuals who had started similar programs in other states was significant in the formation of the Tulalip Center as the program coordinator had no local tribal models to work from.

The Center used “Pathway to Hope,” a video created in Alaska, to host a two-day training with local stakeholders and community members. Additional resources included the Child Advocacy Center Directors' Guide to Mental Health Services for Abused Children and a variety of training materials published by the National Children’s Alliance.

Partnerships

Essential partners for this project include:

  • Tribal  and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, and the FBI Victim Specialist;
  • The Tulalip Indian Child Welfare office and state CPS; and
  • Health care providers, including Providence Hospital and the tribal health clinic.

Occasionally, the Center also collaborates with state law enforcement, working on an individual case basis with county detectives for open cases with tribal victims.

Factors Contributing to Success

The Center’s founders were determined to staff the Center with the most experienced staff in the field. Tribal officials feel that their decision to hire seasoned professionals instilled a high degree of professionalism and a standard of excellence in the program. In turn, community members and partner agencies quickly developed a sense of trust in the Center. Leadership by highly competent professionals ensured subject matter expertise in the field as well as closed gaps in trust among agencies, which allowed for true collaboration.

Lessons Learned

Tribal officials feel that a management consultant could have helped develop a stronger infrastructure for this project, providing assistance with a community needs assessment and more grass-roots community involvement in the development of the Center. They also think that more time could have been spent on building formal interagency relationships, including developing Memoranda of Agreement. Center staff recommend that tribes looking to create a child advocacy center assess the level of collaboration with law enforcement, prioritize building trusting relationships by hiring highly competent professionals, and be open to adapting the national child advocacy center model to the specific needs of the community.

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PROGRAM OUTCOMES

Number Served

The Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center provides direct services, including forensic interviews and therapy, to 60-70 child victims each year. Clients are approximately half male and half female, and they range in age from 0 to 18. The Center provides prevention services, such as radKIDS, to nearly 100 children each year. In addition, the Center has trained 150 adults through the Stewards of Children Program.

Success Stories

In one illustrative case, tribal police called the Center on a Friday afternoon after responding to a local high school to investigate a report of sexual abuse. The student/victim, who had disclosed the abuse to school staff, was brought to the Center and interviewed immediately. During the interview, Center staff began to suspect that the victim suffered from significant disabilities that were impacting the interview. An advocate took the victim to the hospital for a medical forensic exam while the police searched the victim’s home. Over the course of the investigation, the F.B.I. regional forensic interviewer reviewed a recording of the interview and the multi-disciplinary team discussed at length whether a second clarifying interview was warranted given the victim’s suspected disabilities. This collaborative approach allowed the team to make a series of decisions that successfully protected the victim. Ultimately, the suspect pled guilty, avoiding trial, and an advocate from the Center read the victim’s Impact Statement at sentencing. Later, the Center helped the victim appeal a denial of benefits from the state’s Department of Developmental Disabilities and located a psychologist to attest to the victim’s qualification for benefits. In the end, the victim was granted benefits and will receive a level of continued services and support that would not have been possible without this advocacy.


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