Two groups that protect abused children now have offices under same roof

Child Advocacy Center Chair Lem Purcell, CAC President and CEO Sherry Kitchens, UF Child Protection Team Assistant Director Stephanie Cox and UF Pediatrics Chair Dr. Scott Rivkees gather before the official announcement of the co-location between the groups.

It is a seemingly small move with a big upside for protecting the area’s abused and neglected children.

The Child Advocacy Center of Gainesville on Oct. 1 moved some of its operations to the University of Florida Health Pediatrics – Gerold L. Schiebler CMS Center at 1699 SW 16th Ave., which is the home of the UF Child Protection Team. Leaders of the two groups and other local dignitaries celebrated the move Thursday in a brief ceremony at the center.

Having the two groups under one roof makes it easier for children and their families to access services offered by both, rather than directing them between offices in different parts of Gainesville, officials of the organizations said. That also makes things simpler for law enforcement and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

The co-location of the agencies is much anticipated and signals increased collaboration between them, said Scott Rivkees, M.D., chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics, which oversees the Child Protection Team, or CPT.

“This is something that is good for the community and we’re glad it’s finally coming together,” he said. “The co-location is a wonderful thing for children and families who are victims of abuse because it really means we’ll be able to take advantage of the services of both agencies. It’s an ugly part of our society that children are the victims of abuse. It’s our obligation to stand up for these children.”

Lem Purcell, chair of the Child Advocacy Center, or CAC, board of directors, said the groups have had a shared interest in co-locating for some time.

“But we struggled with the where and the how,” he said. “When UF Health offered to renovate and sublet space right next to CPT, the answer to where became pretty clear. The how was a little tougher, but over time we embraced the notion that both groups have a lot to offer. And there was an opportunity to create a system and process here that was greater than the sum of its parts.”

Both organizations are crucial to law enforcement and DCF in investigating cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.

The CPT and CAC conduct forensic interviews of children and family members to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred. The CPT offers medical exams using UF Health physicians, while CAC provides therapy services and victim advocacy.

Frequently, children need the services of both organizations. Until now, that meant referring them between CAC’s East University Avenue office and the CPT on Southwest 16th Avenue.

“But sometimes families chose not to follow up on that referral,” said Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell. “So there were times that children may not have been provided the attention and services they needed because of a lack of transportation or because it was inconvenient or it was something they simply forgot.”

She said bringing some of the CAC’s operations to the CPT’s building is “a huge occasion for us and the community.”

Sherry Kitchens, president and CEO of the Child Advocacy Center, said the move makes both organizations stronger. The CAC will maintain its East University Avenue headquarters and still provide comprehensive services at that location as well.

“At the end of working a case with the UF Child Protection Team and the Child Advocacy Center collaboratively, law enforcement can rest assured that the follow-up and supportive services needed to help children heal is happening, and this frees them up to help the next child and family,” she said. “Collaboration saves time and resources.”

Sherry Kitchens (left), president and CEO of the Child Advocacy Center of Gainesville, and Stephanie Cox, assistant director of the UF Child Protection Team, stand together at the University of Florida Health Pediatrics – Gerold L. Schiebler CMS Center, where the two groups have offices.

Stephanie Cox, assistant director of the CPT, said the organizations have assigned liaisons to each other’s Alachua County cases to provide seamless services for families, children and law enforcement.

“We’re making sure everyone is in the loop and has all the information so we can best serve these families,” she said.

The collaboration ensures children won’t fall through the cracks, said Kitchens.

“The Child Advocacy Center’s mission is to meet the needs of abused children through the use of a child friendly, compassionate, multidisciplinary approach and co-located center,” she said. “This is an exciting collaboration that hopefully breeds additional new programs that fill the needs of children that have not been filled before.”

For more information, please contact: Rossana Passaniti, passar@shands.ufl.edu or 352-273-8569.

UF Child Protection Team
The Child Protection Team is a multidisciplinary program that works with local sheriff's offices and DCF in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. The team evaluates alleged child abuse and neglect, which includes providing medical exams to determine if children have been harmed. It assesses risk and provides recommendations about necessary interventions to protect children and enhance a caregiver's capacity to provide a safe environment. The team, funded by the state, serves Alachua, Bradford, Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Union counties.

Child Advocacy Center of Gainesville
The center’s mission is to provide a comprehensive, child-friendly facility where professionals from law enforcement, medical, child protection and therapy services collaborate to meet the individual needs of child victims and break the cycle of child abuse in Alachua County. The group, serving Alachua County, is under the umbrella of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers and receives funding from the state, Alachua County, the United Way of North Central Florida and the city of Gainesville, among other sources.

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Bill Levesque

Science Writer

Bill Levesque joined the UF Health staff in May 2017 as a science writer covering the Institute on Aging and research of faculty physicians in the College of Medicine. He...Read More

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