National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC)
The National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) was formed in 1985 to improve services for children victimized by sexual abuse in Huntsville and the Madison County area. The center has trained thousands of professionals to serve at-risk children and has become a model for similar programs throughout the United States and in several other countries.
National Children’s Advocacy Center The NCAC began as a dream for many individuals working in the field of child-abuse prevention and treatment who recognized that a new system was needed to coordinate the numerous agencies investigating, prosecuting, and treating sexually abused children. Before 1985, the various agencies involved, including law enforcement, child protective services, prosecutors, mental health providers, medical professionals, and others, did not work in a coordinated manner. The lack of coordination frequently resulted in abused children falling through the cracks of a fragmented and compartmentalized system and other children being additionally traumatized by the very system created for their protection.
Spearheaded by Madison County District Attorney Robert “Bud” Cramer, a group of local individuals from interested groups developed the concept of a child advocacy center. They envisioned a child-friendly environment that brought together under one roof law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, medical providers, and mental health professionals. They also wanted to provide highly professional services to alleged victims of sexual abuse, seeking to limit additional trauma. Although intended initially to respond to the issue of child sexual abuse in the Huntsville-Madison County community, the innovative and highly effective nature of the project quickly caught the attention of professionals around the nation, who were struggling with similar challenges in their communities. The NCAC Articles of Incorporation were filed in 1985, and the NCAC officially began operating as the first Child Advocacy Center that same year. The NCAC’s current mission is “to model, promote, and deliver excellence in child abuse response and prevention through service, education, and leadership.”
Robert “Bud” Cramer The NCAC model has experienced incredible growth and support and has inspired the creation of more than 900 similar programs throughout the United States and in several other countries. These programs provided services to more than 240,000 alleged victims of child sexual abuse in 2007 alone. The child advocacy model has been extremely effective, and the rate of confirmed cases of child sexual abuse has declined by approximately 49 percent since 1990. Also, the NCAC led the development of a national membership organization for Child Advocacy Centers, the National Network of CACs, which is now the National Children’s Alliance, housed in Washington, D.C. The NCAC has trained more than 60,000 professionals from all 50 states and 16 foreign countries on how to best conduct child abuse investigations and provide necessary services to those who have been sexually abused. In addition to improving services for children, recent research suggests that CAC-conducted services are 36 percent less expensive than traditional child abuse investigations and interventions.
Robert “Bud” Cramer, who helped found the NCAC, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990; his advocacy has fueled the dramatic growth in these programs and has resulted in more positive outcomes for children. Early in his legislative career, Cramer led the passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1992, which provided funding and also helped to solidify institutional and governmental support for CACs. During the past 16 years, Cramer has helped secure more than $12 million in federal funds for the NCAC and almost $200 million for child advocacy centers throughout the United States.
The NCAC is housed on a 45,000-square-foot campus in downtown Huntsville. It consists of the Children’s Building, where services are directed to child abuse victims; the Team Building, which houses a multidisciplinary group of personnel representing the Madison County District Attorney’s office, the Huntsville Police Department, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the Madison County Department of Human Resources, and the Alabama Computer Forensic Laboratory; the Community Services Building, which supports administration, finance, development, and child-abuse prevention program staff; and a training building that is home to the NCAC Training Department, Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO), and Southern Regional Child Advocacy Center (SRCAC).
For the children of north Alabama, the NCAC is an invaluable resource in recovering from the trauma of child abuse. For professionals, the NCAC is the premier training center for those involved in the child abuse investigation and intervention professions. For other communities, the NCAC is a model for how a small group of highly committed professionals can improve a community’s response to child sexual abuse. For the Huntsville-Madison County community, the NCAC is an economic engine that has an annual $4 million impact on the local economy.
Jones, Lisa and David Finkelhor. “The Decline of Child Sexual Abuse Cases.” OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin, January 2001; http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/jjbul2001_1_1/contents.html