Children's Advocacy Centers:
Making a Difference in the Lives of Child Abuse Victims

Cathy Crabtree
Executive Director
Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc.

Just the other day someone asked me, as they often do, how and why I continue to work in the child abuse field. "It must be so depressing to hear all those awful stories about what happens to kids," they said. This time I immediately thought of a photograph I'd received in the mail a week or so earlier. The photo was that of a young mother with three beautiful young children - two girls, ages 6 and 4, and a newborn baby boy. The mom was beaming. The dad was apparently the one taking the photo. Everyone was laughing. The background was a small but homey living room.

I have never met the children in the photo in person, but I knew the young mother, and the tiny faces reminded me of when I first met her. It was more than a decade ago, and she had just turned 12. Back then she was defiant, angry, and despite her valiant attempts to hide it, scared to death. The allegations - something she'd reportedly shared with a 7th grade classmate - were that her step-father was molesting her, and has been doing so since she was 8. She was the 10th child who had come to our local children's advocacy center (CAC) back in 1992. Since then there have been thousands more.

Not wanting to disclose her real name, I'll call her Sharon. She is a special and unique young woman, but her story is not unique at all.

She was learning-disabled and the daughter of a frightened, overly medicated, submissive and dependent mother. Her stepfather was a monster. He used her to fulfill his own sexual fantasies and then permitted his teenage sons to do the same. When she tried to talk to her mother about what was happening, her mother would threaten to kill herself. Sharon would then back off her allegations, saying she had made it all up. And so, for years, she endured horrific things, believing she was simply not worthy of better treatment, that somehow this was what she should expect in life.

But, as she tells me today, once she came to the CAC, things began to look different in her eyes. She suddenly knew she was not the only kid who had endured this nightmare. She wasn’t sure she was ready to tell the police what had happened or to have her step-father and her step-brothers put in jail. But she was ready to stand up and say this would NEVER happen to her again.

Today when Sharon calls to tell me, one of the professionals who held her hand and talked to her at the children's advocacy center back in 1992, what costumes her children are wearing for Halloween this year or which one has lost a tooth, she's also quick to remind me that - but for the people at the CAC who helped her - she would never be the mother she is today. She often says that was the worst time of her life but also the best, because it was the first time in her young life that anyone cared what she said or what she felt or what she needed. Suddenly, she recalls, she felt worthy and important and valued. Suddenly she felt her life did, indeed, hold the promise of a happy future.

Sharon had made allegations and recanted them repeatedly over the two year period the investigation of her case went on. There never was a criminal or civil prosecution of her stepfather or stepbrothers. In some ways the system failed her - as it has so many child victims of abuse. However, the children’s advocacy center had somehow empowered her to believe in and protect herself.

She grew up to be a healthy, protective and powerful mother who would ensure there would be no cycle of abuse for her children. She had felt the support of people who believed in her and who would support her if and when she could tell what had happened and even when she could not.

The note - scribbled in the Sharon's still-child-like handwriting and accompanying the photo of her beautiful family - said, "If you weren't there for me back then I could never be here for my kids now. Thank you. I love you."

Why do I, like countless other professionals involved in the children's advocacy center movement in Texas, continue to work in the child abuse field? Because of kids like Sharon who remind us each and every day that we are making a difference and, even when we think we may have failed them, they assure us we have not. We never know what difference we might make for them - perhaps a difference that is not measurable by whether or not the perpetrator in their case was arrested or prosecuted, but rather by whether we listened to them, whether we believed in them.

There are currently 61 children's advocacy centers in Texas, more than in any other state in the nation. Cathy Crabtree, the former founding director of a local CAC in north central Texas, is the executive director of Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc., the statewide membership association for CACs in our state. For more information about Children's Advocacy Centers in Texas go to