The Challenges and Rewards of
Leadership in a CAC
Q&A with CAC Executive Directors
(Part 1 of 2)

A great organization starts with great leadership. However, the role of leadership in a Children’s Advocacy Center can often be demanding and isolating work. We asked veteran directors and leaders from CACs across the southern region to share their experiences with us and give us their best leadership advice. Read on for their responses.
Thank You to Our Contributors

Melissa Brunner : Former Arkansas State Chapter Executive Director
(4 years) and former Executive Director of the Children’s Safety Center in Springdale, Arkansas (3 years).

Wendy Myers : Current Executive Director of the CRICKET Center of Worcester County CAC in Berlin, Maryland (12 years). 

Chris Newlin : Current Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama (13 years).

Jerri Sites : Former Executive Director of Rainbow House CAC in Columbia, Missouri (5 years) and of the CAC of East Central Missouri (5 years).  

Marcus Stamps : Current Executive Director of Davis House CAC in Franklin, Tennessee (8 years).

Winn Stephens : Current Executive Director of the CAC of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky (5 years).

Nancy Williams : Former Executive Director at Memphis Child Advocacy Center in Memphis, Tennessee (10 years).

1. What is one thing you wish you had known before taking this position?

Melissa : The amount of ongoing education of the CAC/MDT model that would need to continually occur within teams and in a community. It’s not a "once is done" philosophy but a model that must consistently be talked about. That is how the legacy of the model continues.

Wendy : I wish that I had known that things change constantly (standards, funding, expectations, staff) and to always expect change and prepare for the unexpected.

Chris : I wish I knew more people who are leaders in the CAC world and those involved, or who should be involved, in supporting our work.

Jerri : Staff supervision skills, conflict resolution, and the impact of secondary traumatic stress on staff and MDT members.

Marcus : I wish I was more aware of the amount of time that is required of the position and how to better balance and manage available time.

Winn : I do not have a social work background and much of the lingo and practices were foreign to me. It took me a while to get up to speed.

Nancy : I wish I had appreciated the complexities of multidisciplinary team dynamics. Knowing about those complexities helps a leader to explain to boards of directors and key stakeholders what appears to be slower-than-desired systemic change to better serve children and their families. Knowing that also helps the leadership team to be patient and yet persistent in reaching goals.  

2. What was the most stressful aspect of the job and how did you handle that stress?

Melissa : I found conflict physically uncomfortable. With time, maturity, training, and boldness I came to appreciate healthy conflict could lead to needed and helpful changes.                     
Wendy : The most stressful part of my job is coordinating agencies and making sure that everyone understands their own specific role but also can appreciate the perspective of others (including agency-specific language).

Chris : The number one thing has always been the constant concern for the well-being and safety of our staff. This is related to both having the resources to continue our programming despite the ups and downs of grants and fundraising and the emotional stability and well-being of all staff members who are working with challenging and toxic content daily.

Jerri : Finding the time to do it ALL – fundraising , public awareness, staff supervision, program management, grant writing and management, MDT building, case review. Both CACs were small operations and each year we saw a need for growth. It could be overwhelming, but I tried my best to hire great staff and create a positive work culture, and I learned how to delegate.

Marcus : I find the constant need to raise more funds the most stressful aspect of the job. As we grow in the number of children we serve and increase the level of team members we hire, we constantly are trying to increase our revenue. The best way to handle the stress is to share the responsibility with the board and other team members to help reach our revenue goals. We are all in this together, and we can make a huge impact if we are all working together as a team. Our stress is not that difficult when you remember and are motivated by the stress victims of child abuse are constantly under.   

Winn : Budget and collaboration are the most stressful aspects of my job. There is no safety net for our operations. If we don’t raise enough money for our services, children and their families don’t get the help they need. Additionally, we have 17 amazing employees and if revenue falls short, it could impact their employment. These are people with children to care for, mortgages to pay, etc. In many ways I’m directly responsible for their family’s fortune. That is a lot to bear. I also find the collaborative nature of the CAC world to be stressful. There are so many community partners we deal with (55 law enforcement agencies alone) that something always needs managing. As soon as you get one group up to speed and fully engaged, another one needs your attention. Stress management is easy in Kentucky because we have excellent bourbon. I’m also good at compartmentalizing and leaving work at work. I’m able to spend lots of time with my family and doing things I enjoy. I’m passionate about people taking their vacation time (myself included). I also try to live a somewhat healthy lifestyle.

Nancy : The most stressful aspect of my job was personnel. I handled the stress by learning to ask for help. An executive coach once described our leadership team as BOB (bend-over-backwards) to lift under-performing employees. With his help we learned when and how to move or release that employee.

3. What accomplishment are you most proud of? Alternatively, is there anything you would have done differently?

Melissa : It really was a group accomplishment. In my opinion, one can never really accomplish something alone. I feel privileged to have worked with other professionals at a state level to help create legislation and funding for CACs. That funding continues to support centers in various ways that each Director sees fit today. Something I am and continue to be proud of is encouraging and supporting various individuals in unique and personal ways so that they could carry on the most important work at hand: helping kids (directly or indirectly). I think at times we all struggle professionally in some way, and many times, those moments are private. It’s in those times we need a safe sounding board to "cheer us on" so to speak. One thing I would have done differently is learn more about personality preferences earlier in my career. It would have saved me some frustration as well as frustration of others. Better late than never!

Wendy : I work with ROCK STARS! I am consistently amazed by the dedicated professionals who do this work. They give 100% to every child and family who walk through our doors. I would have approached our first accreditation application differently in 2011-2012 if I had that to re-do. I thought I could handle it on my own while still taking care of all my other responsibilities. I wish I had asked for more assistance from partnering agencies and from our Board. It made the workload very difficult for me. When we went through the re-accreditation process in 2016, I asked for help and the end result was better. 

Chris : Without a doubt, the greatest accomplishment for the NCAC is to be a multiyear finalist and past winner of the Best Places to Work. This is a competition that compares us to all medium-sized companies in our community in a wide variety of measures as assessed by employee responses. For NCAC, as a nonprofit, to compete against almost exclusively for-profit companies who don’t work in an emotionally challenging environment like child abuse and to win was the proudest moment of my entire career. The NCAC has been recognized for many awards and we have had the opportunity to provide training and consultation in many exciting venues, but nothing compares to being recognized by our own employees as a Best Place to Work.

Jerri : Overall, I am proud of being able to work collaboratively with others to change the system’s response to child abuse over the years. It has been an honor to be able to experience the evolution of our field, and to continue to influence child abuse professionals to enhance or improve their response to these most difficult cases. I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. There were difficult times, and serious challenges, but I leaned on trusted colleagues and tried my best to work with integrity to manage those situations.

Marcus : I am most proud of the development of our leadership team and the role they play in leading our organization in services and culture. In hindsight, I would have lobbied for support personnel much sooner to help myself and other leaders to more effectively contribute our best skills to our jobs and increase our respective ROI for the organization.

Winn : I’m most proud of the expansion we have done. We have added staff, opened two satellite offices, and increased our budget by almost 50%. That is all important because the number of forensic interviews that we have conducted are up 52% in the last four years. I’m also very proud of our staff. We have 14 staff providing direct client services and 10 of them have master’s degrees. Two of the remaining four are currently pursuing a master's.

Nancy : I am most proud of the co-location/centralization of the multidisciplinary team at the CAC.  

Stay Tuned!
Part 2 of 2: This conversation continues in next month’s issue with a discussion of supporting staff and building positive organizational culture.

We Want to Hear From You!

Southern Regional Children's Advocacy Center is creating a video series on Secondary Traumatic Stress.

We want to hear from front line workers .

Share your thoughts and experiences on camera at 35th International Symposium on Child Abuse .

TF-CBT Training Schedule 2019

May 1-3 and October 15-17

Huntsville, AL
Cost: $249
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) trains professionals on the evidence-based psychotherapy approach designed to treat traumatic stress in children and adolescents. Participants learn how to administer a trauma-specific assessment, how to implement TF-CBT to special populations, and how to engage centers.

Registration includes three days of in-person training and nine months of supervision calls afterward. Registration is limited to two attendees per CAC.
I've Been Drinking the TF-CBT Kool-Aid:
Advanced Topics in TF-CBT
Pre-Conference Workshop

 Calling all therapists implementing Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy! If you are ready to grow your TF-CBT skills because you love the model, then this day is for you. We will focus on how to apply TF-CBT to particular client populations: children with complex trauma and chronic PTSD symptoms; sexually abused youth who do not perceive the abuse as traumatizing; and children with diffuse and pervasive neglect experiences. Throughout this day we will practice Socratic Questioning, improve our engagement strategies, and steal shamelessly from our favorite resources. Come prepared to talk up your favorites!

This pre-conference is open only to therapists who are currently implementing the model and who have completed their TF-CBT training
and consultation ca lls – or are currently in a training cohort – with  a
nationally-approved trainer.
Training opportunity from SafePath Children's Advocacy Center

Creative and Hopeful Play Therapy Techniques for Child Trauma

Presenter Dr. David Crenshaw
May 3, 2019
Marietta, GA

For more information and to register, click here .
Connect With Us
Spotlight is a newsletter prepared by Southern Regional CAC that focuses on current topics, ideas, trainings, and conferences which are designed to further the knowledge and practice of CAC professionals within the region. We hope you find the information helpful! Let us know if you have specific topics you’d like to see in future newsletters.
This publication is funded through grant #2016-CI-FX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components, operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this publication (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).
Southern Regional CAC | #justtryingtohelpsomekids | Vol. 2 No. 2: Feb 2019