New office increases visibility for Child Advocacy Services

Published 2:11 am Saturday, October 22, 2022

DESTREHAN — For years, Child Advocacy Services had two separate offices in St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes, with two separate teams and sets of fiscal demands.

The River Region offices are not merged under one roof at 13726 River Road Suite 100 in Destrehan, allowing CAS to more effectively office a voice, healing and security to more than 250 local children annually.

Rob Carlisle, chief executive officer of Child Advocacy Services, said the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida made nonprofits such as CAS look at new ways and new places to serve. It was a match made in heaven when St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel T. Chaisson offered office space to foster growth in a centralized location. In addition to serving St. Charles and St. John parishes, CAS also serves children in St. James, Tangipahoa, Ascension, Assumption, Livingston, St. Helena, and East and West Feliciana parishes.

According to Carlisle, the increased visibility of the new office on River Road has already led to some community members stopping by and asking how they can volunteer.

The Destrehan office offers two wings representing the two primary programs under the Child Advocacy Services umbrella – Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). The wings include training space for community volunteers as well as bright and colorful spaces to help children feel comfortable during forensic interviews.

CASA volunteers get to know children in foster care by talking to the child and gathering information from those involved in the child’s life. These volunteers attend court hearings, typically twice a year, to advocate for decisions that are in the child’s best interest while providing a powerful voice and consistency to the child’s life.

In order to become a CASA, individuals must be at least 21 years old and complete a background check and training program. Schedules for upcoming trainings are posted at childadv.net.

One child who has been helped by CASA stated, “My CASA helped me, and I am a better person because of her.”

Carlisle said volunteers have become more vital than ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Normally when children were in school or extracurricular activities, you had teachers, counselors and coaches who are observant and pick up on when something is going on. I think bringing people closer in and restricting where they were going really increased incidents of neglect and abuse, whether physical or emotional,” Carlisle said. “We’re still trying to understand the effects of the dynamics that have changed.”

Meanwhile, the Child Advocacy Center provides a child-friendly environment where children feel safe to talk about the abuse they have endured.

“We partner with the sheriff’s office – the sheriff’s office conducts forensic interviews for children exposed to sexual assault, and we provide all of the services for those victims, counseling, prevention education and family advocacy,” Carlisle said.

According to nationalchildrensalliance.org, CACs improve conviction rates by 94%, and a child who visits a CAC is four times more likely to receive additional services.

In 2021, CAS’s Child Advocacy Center conducted 707 forensic interviews, which included 494 girls and 213 boys. Ninety-five percent of the children knew their abuser.

CAS also offers prevention education training to promote better safety and health for children and families. Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children is a sexual abuse prevention training program that educates adults to prevent, recognize and react responsible to child sexual abuse. Other programs teach children how to recognize the signs of abuse so they will be better equipped to tell a trusted adult if it happens to them.

“When you have a community that doesn’t talk about this, it becomes a taboo subject,” Carlisle said. “We need to be engaged, have those conversations, and talk about what abuse looks like.”

To report suspected child abuse, contact local law enforcement as well as the Department of Children and Family Services at 855-452-5437.
For more information about Child Advocacy Services, call 800-798-1575 or visit www.childadv.net.