April 17, 2024

A Year of Change at Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center

TBCAC looks back at the challenges of 2023 and ahead to serving children in our area
By Al Parker | Feb. 24, 2024

Like a lot of businesses and organizations, the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center (TBCAC) has been hiring.

“Our board is prioritizing a search for a new CEO,” says Wilson (Bill) Brott when we spoke earlier this month. Brott is chair of the TBCAC board and a long-time attorney who serves as the tribal prosecutor for the Grand Traverse Band. “We’re hopeful by spring we’ll have our new CEO.”

Just as Northern Express was headed to press, TBCAC announced in a press release that the role had been filled. Lander Bachert—former CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Big Sky Country and Director of K-12 Programming and Digital Outreach at America Campaign prior to that—will begin on Monday, March 11. 

“I am deeply committed to the wellbeing and care of our young people, and am honored to be joining the TBCAC team to support the organization’s important work,” Bachert said in the press release.

The new CEO will oversee operation of the regional response center for cases of child abuse and violence in the counties of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford counties, along with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

“The Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center provides hope, healing and justice to children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, trafficking, severe neglect, or have witnessed other acts of violence through trauma-informed services and programs,” explains Brott. 

In a Good Place

Even as they’ve waited to place a new leader at the helm of the operation, TBCAC has been operating at full service capacity, according to Brott. “We’ve had a lot of support from our community through some big changes, and ultimately, things at our CAC are in a good place,” he says. 

Those “big changes” came in May of last year, when Grand Traverse County Prosecuting Attorney Noelle Moeggenberg and other individuals and entities had disagreements about how TBCAC was being run. Four board members resigned their positions over complaints about the organization’s leadership, transparency, growth, and concerns about workplace culture. 

After some changes within the board and the staff, TBCAC renewed their partnership with Moeggenberg and others one month later.

In a 2022-23 community report, Moeggenberg noted that “after internal restructuring at the center, a noticeable increase in transparency, ongoing efforts to support employees and meaningful discussions that led to restored trust among the center and multidisciplinary team members, we reinstated our former partnership in June 2023. Since that time, the TBCAC and its multidisciplinary team members have worked together to provide the best possible services to children and families in our area.” 

“We repaired our partnership with Prosecuting Attorney Noelle Moeggenberg and the law enforcement agencies who work with us,” explains Brott. “And we are communicating with them regularly to make sure we all stay on the same page.”

One major change came in reducing the size of the governing board from 15 members to eight. The board provides governance and accountability, establishes direction of the agency, and ensures there is financing for TBCAC to operate. Each board member serves for three years and is limited to four terms. 

As part of the healing process, the TBCAC board commissioned independent reviews of the staff and board processes. Outside agencies were brought in to meet with staff and discuss issues. Two separate reports cited the exceptional qualities of the organization’s direct services, saying, “The work performed at the institution, and the care exhibited for their clientele was consistently cited as exemplary, much needed, compassionate and professional.”  

Even during the dispute, the staff continued its work with clients from across the six counties and the Tribe.

“I’m so proud of the staff, who are doing exceptional work to support survivors of child abuse and their families,” says Brott, who noted that the staff has grown to 17 with the addition of two more counselors. “It’s important to note that there were never any issues with how our counseling, intervention, and prevention services were being delivered by staff. And we continue to provide trauma-informed services and programs.” 

In the Black

So with all the changes, how is the organization’s financial future looking? TBCAC operates on a budget of about $1.5 million, with about $1 million coming through grants from various sources. Another $270,000 comes from generous donors and groups across the six-county region. 

“Our current budget is in the black, we’ve passed all financial audits, and we have ongoing transparent communication protocols in place with staff, MDT [Multi-Disciplinary Team] partners, and other community supporters,” says Brott. 

Madeline Saucedo is director of fund development and spends much of her time pursuing funding for the organization. A $700,000 American Rescue Plan Act grant has now been secured, along with other financial resources from Rotary Charities, the Oleson Foundation, and donors across the community TBCAC serves. “We have the cash flow to fund all our operations,” adds Brott. 

An annual fundraising luncheon, Circle of Friends, is held each fall. Last year’s gathering, the first in-person major event post-pandemic, raised over $70,000 from the community. 

In the Community

Though the budget is healthy, it has to stretch to meet the needs of children across a sprawling geographic region. Founded in 2010, TBCAC is one of the largest child advocacy centers in the state and partners with nearly 50 agencies, schools, and law enforcement departments. 

The agency has performed over 3,600 forensic interviews, with 472 of them coming in 2022, the most recent statistical year available.

“A forensic interview is the recording of the child’s statement by a trained forensic interviewer,” explains Director of Intervention Services Teresa Lutke. TBCAC’s interviewers have been specially trained to work with children under these circumstances. “They are unbiased and specialize in speaking with children at various age levels, adds Lutke.  

In 2022, the organization also conducted 1,718 counseling sessions for survivors and their families, and held 14 prevention education sessions attended by 249 trainees.  

Those prevention efforts continue to grow steadily with “Talk, Protect, Report” (TPR) training sessions for local schools, businesses, faith-based organizations, and individual citizens.

The TPR training takes only two to three hours and focuses on what every adult should know in order to be an effective advocate for a child. The content includes how to talk about the issue, protect children from abusers, and make a report when it comes to sexual abuse. Training sessions can be conducted wherever a group of 10 interested adults might gather, at the TBCAC center in Traverse City, or even virtually.  

To sign up for a TPR training or learn more about TBCAC, visit traversebaycac.org.

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