Children Need Not Suffer, Say Crow Creek Advocates
Community members dance at the powwow.
The signs that there was a child abuse problem in the community
were there. In addition, children who were victims of abuse
had to travel for a whole day to get medical attention or psychological
counseling, and child victims often returned years after they
were first treated, showing signs of additional abuse.
"The need wasn't being met," recalls Lisa
Thompson, Executive Director of Wiconi Wawokiya, Inc., which
runs Children's Safe Place, the first child advocacy
center (CAC) in Indian country. The center is located on the
Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, where about 3,500 people
live. It is the first and only tribal CAC that is certified
by the National Children's Alliance. It serves both Native
and non-Native children alike.
In mainstream child advocacy centers, children are interviewed
on average seven to nine times following an incident of sexual
or other physical abuse. Before the center opened, Indian children
were lucky to be interviewed once, Thompson said. Between the
long court processes and federal bureaucracy, valuable information
was lost and children were missing out on important therapeutic
The time for change came as Thompson, who had received training
about CACs, started the Children's Safe Place in 1998.
At the center, which serves about 100 children per year, Indian
children are medically examined and evaluated when child abuse
is suspected. The medical examiner can use the center's
telemedicine equipment to consult with other physicians about
forensic medical evidence without taking the child away from
the community. The center also sends staff to different grade
levels in the schools to teach about prevention and recognition
Children also can be interviewed at the center. Tribal and
federal investigators come to the center to talk with children
and their families in a child-centered and culturally specific
setting that encourages victim safety and healing. Counseling
is provided as well.
Wiconi Wawokiya, which means "helping families," works
in the community in different capacities. It advocated for
mandatory arrest of domestic violence offenders and saw success
when the tribe passed such a law in 1997. Offenders are now
arrested and removed from their homes when the police arrive.
Just by the way it operates, the center is responding to the
community's needs. A tribal, federal, and state multidisciplinary
team that includes federal prosecutors, agents from the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, and representatives from state social
services and local law enforcement meets monthly to discuss
center operations and planning. "It's the cornerstone of our
work," Thompson said of the team. "Without them, we wouldn't
be where we are now."
Children have room to play at the Child Advocacy Center.
Sharing information and ideas is essential to be successful,
she explained. It's also empowering to victims to know
that the prosecutors believe their stories and are working
on their behalf.
Getting the word out and educating the community can be particularly
challenging, said Thompson. The staff realized that if you
are in an abusive situation, you are not likely to just come
to the center, she said.
"Then we thought, let's use our own culture to
draw people in," Thompson said. Now, one of the more
successful center programs is a powwow, where the community
gathers to socialize and dance and the center educates people
about domestic violence and child abuse.
In addition to a multidisciplinary team and an understanding
of how to incorporate the culture, a successful program needs
leadership and people who are passionate about the issue, Thompson
"No matter what, we're here," she said. "We
believe in what we do and we're going to stand up for
For further information, contact: