• Child’s Advocacy Center plans new building to expand agency’s family counseling and investigator training programs

    July 17, 2023

    Helpers sometimes need help.

    Plans for a proposed building expansion project are in the works that would allow the Children’s Advocacy Center of Comal County (CACCC) to offer specialized training and group support for multidisciplinary team members who work on child abuse cases.

    CACCC got the okay from the New Braunfels City Council in February for $136,626 for the Counseling and Training Expansion Center project from an allocation the city received from the U.S. Department of the Treasury Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The program provides funds to state, local and tribal governments across the country to support their response to and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

    The organization is pursuing funding for the balance of the $341,565 needed for the project from other sources. The agency will provide a construction timeline once funding is secured.

    CACCC provides a child-friendly facility with a multidisciplinary approach to prevent, detect, investigate and treat child abuse. The organization offers a place to minimize the number of interviews a child can experience. Investigators observe the interview via camera conducted by a professional, objective forensic interviewer, with the interview recorded for possible use in court.

    But studies have shown that individuals who work on child abuse cases can suffer secondary trauma and empathetic strain, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

    According to research by internationally recognized resilience and trauma prevention expert Olga Phoenix, about 70% of social workers suffer from secondary traumatic stress, and 65% of sexual assault therapists exhibit at least one symptom of secondary traumatic stress.

    In addition, her studies indicated that 33% of law enforcement members showed high levels of emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. The research also revealed that 37% of child protection service workers reported clinical levels of emotional distress associated with secondary traumatic stress, and 34% of female forensic interviewers experienced symptoms of secondary traumatic stress.

    “They have faster burnout,” said Stacy Dufur, CACCC director of programs. “They have issues with mental health, physical health and relationships – just about anything that someone with first-hand trauma would be dealing with. Part of the reason we want to have the building constructed is to address some of those things in our community and keep the helpers we have.”

    That’s where the additional building would come in. The space would allow the agency to provide training and support to alleviate this impact. Services would include research-backed seminars, support groups, yoga classes, art classes, celebration lunches, debriefing areas and counseling for these professionals.

    CACCC’s multidisciplinary team encompasses 16 interagency partners and includes about 50 individuals in Comal County. During fiscal year 2022, the team reviewed 2,177 cases of potential child abuse through statewide intakes.

    Plans call for constructing a metal building adjacent to the existing facility in the Gruene district of New Braunfels. The concept includes an open plan on the first floor with concrete floors sufficient to weather art projects. The plan provides seating for 300 people, restrooms and an audio/visual system set up for training.

    The building will serve a dual purpose, fulfilling the agency’s primary mission by providing for an expansion of essential services and counseling to families experiencing trauma. Plans call for providing classes where parents can learn more about trauma, how to help their child cope, how to model positive behaviors for their children and how to connect with them.

    Plans also call for the new space to host group-based therapy sessions that would allow parents to learn from other parents and increase healthy social connections between parents.

    “We want to be able to offer different types of services – maybe to offer parenting to some of our families, different types of support and groups for our families,” said Natalie Lopez, the agency’s clinical director. “A lot of times these kids come in, and their family members are also struggling with what has happened, and so it gives them the opportunity to meet other people that are going through similar things and to have them as support.”

    According to Trendy Sharp, the agency’s executive director, the space would also host groups for specific populations of children where they could practice the skills learned in therapy. The agency provided 1,235 hours of direct service counseling services in fiscal year 2022.

    “A nurturing attachment with a parent is going to help a child be successful,” Sharp said. “If a child knows they can go to their parent and tell them something is happening to them, the child is going to be safer and do better in the long run. But sometimes, adults need help learning how to do that because it doesn’t come naturally. We all parent the same way we were parented and sometimes, that might not be the best or healthiest way.”

    The expanded services also plan includes therapeutic art activities, reading circles, drumming circles, and yoga classes, according to Lopez. The space needed for those programs is currently unavailable in the agency’s current digs.

    “The new space would be more inviting, warm, and more therapeutic,” she said. “Eventually, the idea is to help families continue to protect their children, to keep them safe and help them be successful.”

    Since the creation of the CACCC in 2005, the organization has provided thousands of children with forensic interviews, counseling sessions, medical examinations and case coordination services. During the 2022 fiscal year, the organization conducted 336 forensic interviews, with 68% involving sexual abuse and 32% related to physical and other abuse or risk.

    For more information or to make a donation, visit www.comalcac.org. Donors can designate funds go toward the building project.

    The CACCC is a partner organization with the McKenna Foundation.

McKenna actively provides services to enhance the health and well-being of the greater New Braunfels community, serving as a partner and resource to others who share our goals — now and for future generations.


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