Miss. Senators Urge DOJ to Help Abused Children

Clarification Needed to Ensure Centers Can Provide Critical Healing Services

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., have joined a bipartisan effort encouraging U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to help child advocacy centers (CACs) around the country by ensuring federal support for medical and forensic services. These specialists fill an important role in providing assistance to abused children, conducting interviews that are often the access point for other victim services. Mississippi has nine child advocacy facilities, which serve 3,200 children throughout the state.

“These advocacy centers offer important care and support to abused children and young victims of human trafficking. We want the Justice Department to ensure that their services, such as forensic interviews and medical examinations, are eligible for reimbursement through the Victims of Crime Assistance fund. This support could be critical in helping these youths find justice,” Cochran said.

“Thousands of children would greatly benefit from forensic services if they were more readily available,” Wicker said. “Unfortunately, many child advocacy centers are experiencing a shortage of these experts because of funding uncertainty. The Justice Department can remove that uncertainty by making it clear that the services will be reimbursed. This would be an important step to ensure that victims of abuse can receive the help they need to heal.”

The letter, led by Senators Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., urges Lynch to state explicitly that forensic interviews and forensic medical exams are reimbursable services under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victims Assistance Program. This clarification would allow CACs to conduct these vital services, treating victims of child abuse and child sex trafficking with greater efficiency.

Currently, nothing prohibits states and these centers from using VOCA funding to pay for forensic interviews and forensic medical exams. However, many states and child advocacy centers are hesitant to do so because DOJ has not clearly defined them as reimbursable services.

This clarification letter is supported by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi.

The full text of the letter follows:

November 30, 2015

The Honorable Loretta Lynch

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

We write on behalf of all child victims of crime to urge you to confirm that children’s advocacy centers are eligible for reimbursement under the VOCA Victim Assistance Grant Program for expenses related to conducting forensic interviews and forensic medical examinations for child abuse victims in a multidisciplinary setting. Forensic interviews and medical examinations are integral to providing appropriate victim services to children who have been abused.

Over the last three decades, Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) have continually improved, refined and defined ways of helping child abuse and child sex trafficking victims, and it all starts with the forensic interview. Forensic interviews conducted at CACs are child-centered and coordinated to avoid duplication and re-victimization of the child. Forensic interviews are also the gateway to further victim services for children who have been abused as they result in referrals for trauma assessments, mental health services for child victims and non-offending family members, victim support and advocacy, and medical evaluations. Last year, CACs provided services and forensic interviews to more than 315,000 children nationwide.

CACs also conduct forensic medical examinations, in conjunction with the forensic interview, to ensure that any available medical evidence is gathered while also treating any physical injuries from the abuse. An accurate history is essential in making the appropriate medical diagnosis and determining the appropriate treatment. Because this is essential, CACs use health care providers with pediatric experience and child abuse expertise to conduct the medical evaluations.

For CACs, both forensic interviews and forensic medical examinations are key components and essential for healing and justice for victims and non-offending caregivers. Confirming that the VOCA Victim Assistance Grant Program includes forensic interviews and forensic medical examinations as allowable direct services costs will give CACs access to critical resources needed to serve child victims within their communities. It is for this reason that we encourage you to allow forensic interviews and forensic medical examinations to be eligible for reimbursement under the VOCA Victim Assistance Grant Program.

Thank you for your consideration.