A functioning and effective multidisciplinary team (MDT) is the foundation of a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). An MDT is a group of professionals from specific, distinct disciplines that collaborates from the point of report and throughout a child and family’s involvement with the CAC. MDTs coordinate intervention so as to reduce potential trauma to children and families and improve services overall, while preserving and respecting the rights, mandates and obligations of each agency.
A CAC is not just a facility, but serves as an inter-agency coordinated response center. All MDT representatives contribute their knowledge, experience and expertise for a coordinated, comprehensive, compassionate, and professional response. Quality assurance and a review of the effectiveness of the collaborative efforts are also critical to the MDT response.
The core MDT is comprised of representatives from law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, medical, mental health, and victim advocacy, together with CAC staff. Some CACs, including those in small, rural communities, may employ one person to fill multiple roles. For example, the CAC Director may also serve as the Victim Advocate, or a CPS worker may function as a forensic interviewer and a caseworker. What is important is that clear boundaries are maintained between each function, and that all functions are performed by a member of the MDT. MDTs may also be expanded to include other professionals including guardians ad litem, adult and juvenile probation officers, dependency (civil) attorneys, out-of-home care licensing personnel, federal investigators, school personnel, domestic violence providers, and others, as is needed and appropriate for an individual child, family, or community.
Generally, a coordinated, MDT approach facilitates efficient inter-agency communication and information sharing, ongoing involvement of key individuals, and support for children and families. Each agency gains the benefit of a broadened knowledge base from which decisions are made, thorough and shared information, and improved and timely evidence gathering. Involvement of the prosecutor from the beginning stages of the case may also contribute to a more successful criminal justice outcome. MDT interventions in a neutral, child-focused CAC setting are associated with less anxiety, fewer interviews, and more appropriate and timely referrals for needed services. An MDT response fosters needed education, support, and treatment for children and families that may enhance their willingness to participate in the criminal justice system as effective witnesses. In addition, parents and other caregivers are empowered to protect and support their child throughout the investigation and prosecution and beyond.