The Child Advocacy Center provides a child-friendly setting for the identification, investigation, prosecution, treatment and prevention of child abuse through the use of a multidisciplinary team of professionals. Children are referred due to sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and/or domestic violence allegations through core agencies to intervene with abused children.

The Center provides an array of trauma-informed services to help children in need. Services include victim advocacy during criminal, injunction, family and dependency court; intensive case management; multidisciplinary team staffing; and case tracking through the system to reduce children falling through the gaps. Services provided include play therapy and trauma symptom reduction services to abused children who, without the program, could not otherwise obtain specialized therapy services. Therapy reduces the risk that these children will be re-abused or become abusers themselves.

When children come to the Child Advocacy Center, a Child Victim Advocate greets them with a smile and a snack.  After each interview, the Advocate/Case Manager helps make the child feel safe and comfortable again as they select a special keepsake toy and leave their handprint on one of the Center’s many canvases.  This Advocate stays with each child’s case every step of the way and serves as the family’s point of contact until services are no longer needed by the abused child or their caregiver.

Advocate/Case Manager’s assist children and non-offending caregivers in being informed and prepared for what happens next during investigations, prosecutions, and treatment.  Advocates stay in touch with the professionals working the cases and link families with the services necessary to meet their basic needs, are there to provide emotional support and walk each family through the court process if and when this is needed.

Agency Collaboration

The Child Advocacy Center embraces a multidisciplinary team approach and collaborates with the following agencies on cases.

CAC Core Agencies

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office
Department of Children and Families
Gainesville Police Department
Guardian Ad Litem Program
Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc
Partnership for Strong Families
State Attorney’s Office
UF/Child Protection Team

CAC Partners

Alachua County Health Department
Alachua County Schools
Alachua County Victim Services
Alachua Police Department
Children’s Home Society
CDS Family and Behavioral Health Services
Department of Juvenile Justice
High Springs Police Department
Office of the Attorney General
Peaceful Paths
Shands/UF/Social Work

The Child Advocacy Center provides a variety of training opportunities to professionals and community members to educate and provide the tools necessary to keep children safe.

With national studies finding 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18, the Child Advocacy Center remains dedicated to child sexual abuse prevention training and education. We deliver best practice programs for schools, community groups, corporations and faith-based organizations, tailoring curricula to meet each audience’s needs.

Human Trafficking – Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

Since 2009, the Child Advocacy Center has grown its practice and training to address a previously overlooked form of child sexual abuse, the commercial sexual exploitation of children. We offer training to service providers and other professionals throughout North Central Florida and have provided sessions at several major conferences.

Childhood Trauma Training for Non-Clinicians

Child traumatic stress refers to the physical and emotional responses of a child to events that threaten the life of the child or of someone critically important to the child. Students preparing to become social workers, teachers, counselors and or plan to work with children in other ways are invited to participate in this informative, interactive education program about trauma-informed care and what it means for the health and well-being of children.

We try to minimize the number of times children must relive their abuse by creating a compassionate, child-friendly environment where a team of investigators can observe a session between a child and one of the Child Advocacy Center’s trained forensic interviewers. The interview is recorded and can be used in court as evidence. Conducting the interviews in this format reduces the likelihood of the child being interviewed multiple times by many different professionals in a variety of locations. Multiple interviews re-traumatize the child by causing them to revisit the abuse. Reducing the number of interviews while being consistent with the interviewer and the interview environment means less trauma to the abused child.

“All of our child investigations and prosecutions rely on the forensic interviews and therapy provided by the team of the Child Advocacy Center. Their resource and  professional staff have not only helped arrest and prosecute hundreds of sexual offenders, but more importantly, helped children victims cope and heal from these incredibly violent acts.” -Chief Tony Jones, Gainesville Police Department

What is a forensic interview?

A forensic interview is a structured conversation with a child intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event(s) that the child may have experienced or witnessed.

Forensic interviews at the Child Advocacy Center are conducted by our forensic interview specialists who have received advanced training on the forensic interviewing of child victims/witnesses. Interviews are broadcast through a closed circuit television system to members of the multidisciplinary team in an adjacent room. The forensic interviewer wears an earpiece during the interview so that team members may relay questions for the child to answer. This ensures that law enforcement, child welfare, and victim services professionals receive the information they need to prosecute, serve, and protect the child.

What is the purpose of a forensic interview?

A forensic interview is conducted at the Child Advocacy Center when there has been a report to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families that the child may have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse or when a child may have witnessed a violent crime.

The purpose of a forensic interview is:

1. To obtain information from a child that may be helpful in a criminal investigation;

2. To assess the safety of the child’s living arrangements;

3. To obtain information that will either corroborate or refute allegations or suspicions of abuse and neglect;

4. To assess the need for medical treatment and psychological care.

The Child Advocacy Center began leading the Gainesville community response to commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in 2009 with a program encompassing collaboration, prevention and treatment. We currently provide outreach and services to children exploited in sex trafficking to help them escape dangerous lives at the hands of traffickers and predators.

We are members of the Alachua County Coalition Against Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery — that denies freedom to 20.9 million people globally. And it’s happening in Florida right here in Gainesville. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.

In 2016, the Human Trafficking Hotline reported the following statistics for Florida:

  • 1,623 calls received
  • 550 cases reported
  • 401 cases were related to sex trafficking
  • 169 cases involving a minor

Get Help for Victims of Human Trafficking

Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.

To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733).

Common Living and Working Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question
  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Learn more at

Provided by the Polaris Project

At the Child Advocacy Center, a team of therapists provides individual, group, and family counseling for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma, including human trafficking, political violence, domestic violence, neglect, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. We also provide services to siblings of these children, and their non-offending caregivers.  All of our therapists have been trained in evidence-based treatment methods that are proven to be effective in reducing trauma symptoms and improving functioning.

Evidence-Based Therapeutic Interventions Offered at the Center:

Play Therapy 

Child-Centered Play Therapy is a therapeutic intervention wherein children can process traumatic experiences in a safe, nonjudgmental environment at their own pace. Play is the natural language of children, and a child’s play reveals their life experiences and gives voice to feelings and thoughts associated with these events. Trauma issues present as repeated patterns/themes in play. Coping strategies are expressed in play, as well as a child’s wishes and needs for resolution. This is a journey that moves at the child’s pace without any influences from the outside. Play therapy can be used for children as young as 2 years of age.

Trauma-Focused Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

TF-CBT is a treatment modality designed to decrease trauma symptoms in children 3-18 years of age. This is a structured model that is usually completed in 18-24 weeks of treatment. Caregivers are involved in this treatment and receive psychoeducation and support. For children who have experienced complex trauma, additional treatment may be needed after the completion of the TF-CBT model.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a treatment that focuses on unprocessed memories of trauma through bilateral stimulation of the brain. In the face of trauma and danger, the sympathetic nervous system activates and children and adults experience what is called a “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” response. EMDR helps clients process traumatic memories such that they do not continue to have these trauma responses when they think of the traumatic event(s).

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

PCIT is a therapeutic intervention for caregivers and their children aged 2-7 to address behavioral problems, such as tantrums, defiance, aggression, and attachment issues. In this modality, the therapist coaches the caregiver while they play with their child. PCIT is implemented in two phases of play, one child-led and the other caregiver-led. Child-led sessions focus on the caregiver-child dyad to foster secure attachment, connection, trust, decreased tantrums and negative attention-seeking behaviors, increased self-esteem, and increased pro-social behaviors. The caregiver-led sessions focus on increasing a caregiver’s sense of confidence and calm when addressing the child’s behaviors, providing caregivers with discipline strategies that support a child’s healthy emotional development, decreasing corporal punishment and physical abuse, increasing a child’s compliance and responsiveness to directions, increased respect for caregivers and caregiver rules, and decreasing aggressive and destructive behaviors.

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)

TBRI is a treatment model that helps caregivers meet their child’s needs, focusing on three main areas: physical, attachment, and behavioral needs. Meeting the physiological and environmental needs of a child help develop a sense of felt safety. Developing and sustaining safe, nurturing relationships between caregivers and child help foster secure attachment. Addressing disruptive behaviors that are often seen in children who have experienced trauma focuses on the child’s ability to regulate their emotions and utilize effective coping skills.

Group Therapy at the Center:

Groups for Non-Offending Caregivers: Groups are offered to caregivers of abused children who have not perpetrated child abuse and are not the subject of current or ongoing child abuse investigations. These groups help the caregivers incorporate methods to best support their child during their healing process. Caregivers of children who have experienced trauma can sometimes feel alone, ashamed, guilty, angry, or lost. Group therapy normalizes these emotional responses and provides psychoeducation to caregivers in parenting strategies, processing self-blame, learning prevention strategies, etc.

What is Trauma-Informed?

Trauma is an experience that causes harm and overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. Some examples of trauma are abuse, neglect, witnessing acts of violence, household dysfunction, grief, and loss, or accidents and natural disasters.

Childhood trauma can lead to drug use, alcoholism, depression, suicide, poor academic performance, diminished health, difficulties on the job, and disease. Research has shown that trauma impacts the way a child’s brain develops and the ability to learn, play, and connect with others.

But there is hope. Childhood trauma can be overcome with intensive, supportive therapy and services that will enable the child to process and move past their traumatic experience.

How We Help

The Child Advocacy Center is the only location in the area that is child-focused and utilizes the trauma-informed model adopted nationally by the National Children’s Alliance as a best practice for children who have suffered abuse. Our therapists, forensic interviewers, and advocates all have specialized, advanced, training in the treatment of childhood trauma. All our services are available free of charge for as long as they are needed.

Together, we can break the cycle of child abuse.