A safe space for young survivors

Stephanie Widhalm, program director, takes a moment with Tori, a trained courthouse facility dog who was placed at CAC by Assistance Dogs of Hawaii to help soothe kids dealing with the aftermath of trauma.

For kids who experience abuse, talking about what happened can be very difficult – especially when conversations occur in a stressful or unfamiliar place, such as a busy emergency room or at an unknown area in school.

To help create a welcoming environment for these conversations, Providence Inland Northwest Washington supports Partners with Families and Children by funding their Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) in Spokane. The CAC team has created a safe and comfortable place for child and teen survivors or witnesses of child abuse, neglect and other crimes.

“We tailor everything to the children with consideration for each person’s age and level of development,” said Stephanie Widhalm, CAC director. “The space is designed to soothe with special attention to lighting, noise and décor.”

Law enforcement officers, health care workers and others refer children to the center. Once they’re in the door, two advanced registered nurse practitioners, funded by Providence Inland Northwest Washington Community Benefit, take the kids under their care.

“We’re caring for children during some of the hardest times in their lives. Many kids tell us they feel better after seeing us, and that is one of the best things we can hear.”  
-Stephanie Widhalm, director, Children’s Advocacy Center.

Initial services may include a medical evaluation or forensic interview to help identify and treat the abuse, with follow-up connections to other needed services, such as mental health care, dental care or speech therapy.

The center has served an increasing number of children, with a 50.5% rise in interview rates over the last four years. In 2022 alone, the center served 636 kids.

“We’re caring for children during some of the hardest times in their lives,” Widhalm said. “Many kids tell us they feel better after seeing us, and that is one of the best things we can hear.”

If you have concerns about abuse, these services are available to help: