Humboldt County’s Child Abuse Services Team (CAST), which works to protect young victims of abuse, will hold an open house on Tuesday, April 29, at its Eureka office.
The public is invited to meet members of the team — which consists of personnel from the Department of Health and Human Services, District Attorney’s Office, DA’s Victim/Witness Division, law enforcement, tribal agencies and the North Coast Rape Crisis Team — and learn more about the work they have done in the community for the last 18 years.
CAST was formed in 1996, bringing county and community agencies that had been working autonomously on child abuse issues together to share resources and make physical and sexual abuse investigations less traumatic and disruptive on the young victim’s life.
To do this, CAST members, including DHHS social workers and mental health clinicians and child forensic interviewers from the DA’s office, come to one location where one interview takes place with the child, rather than the child having to go to various agencies and tell the story over and over again to officials.
“Having a core group of dedicated and trained professionals always makes sense — whether the matter is ultimately prosecuted or not,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel. “Having a core group that works together and brings a wide variety of experience to the table assists in the assessment and evaluation of cases presented. It serves the survivors in our community in a cohesive and compassionate manner.”
Once the interview is complete, the DA’s office and law enforcement go over the testimony and determine if abuse has taken place and, if so, how to build a strong case for prosecution. A member of the DA’s Victim/Witness Division advocates for the child and his or her family, offering guidance and support through all legal proceedings.
DHHS Director Phillip R. Crandall said, “About 20 years ago, we began to work on how we could reduce fragmentation of our services and poor outcomes in terms of prosecution of child abuse, and that began our first integrated, coordinated service effort in 1996 to form the Child Abuse Services Team.”
Since October 1996, CAST has conducted 2,514 comprehensive forensic interviews, giving children a voice in a safe environment and empowering them to take back their lives. This coordinated response has proved successful in the criminal investigation and prosecution of many child abuse cases.
“Every day, the top news stories focus on a murder or assault, and that over time distorts our perceptions about who we are as a community,” Crandall said. “Humboldt County is, in fact, a very creative and compassionate community that works together to protect and empower our children and youth. CAST is one example of that. It focuses on what is right.
“I’d like to see today’s headline say, ‘More than 2,500 child victims were given back their lives, becoming strong and capable survivors of sexual and physical abuse,’” Crandall said.
Neel added, “From a prosecution perspective, having the resources of the team approach helps by providing a broader perspective of the family unit, the minor’s history and the perpetrator’s history as well. It helps identify how best to potentially address the issues presented.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child maltreatment is a significant public health problem, with Child Welfare Services agencies reporting nationally that more than 686,000 children were victims of neglect or abuse in 2012.
The CAST open house will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at 333 K St. in Eureka.