Ivy R. Buchan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Beth Mabry

Second Advisor

Kathyrn Bonach

Third Advisor

Melissa Swauger


This study explores factors that facilitate or hinder the engagement of law enforcement officers in multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) at the core of Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs). CACs are a collaborative approach to child sexual abuse. MDTs bring together major disciplines responding to child abuse including: law enforcement; children and youth services (CYS); the district attorney’s (DA’s) office; and medical, therapeutic, and victim services. The MDT collaborates in a joint investigation that avoids the need for children to repeat their abuse story multiple times to different adults, possibly retraumatizing them. As the criminal investigator on the MDT, the law enforcement representative’s engagement is vital for the success of the MDT process. Engagement means attending forensic interviews of the child victims and MDT case review meetings and sharing information and communication with other MDT members.

The literature indicates that law enforcement officers may face some unique obstacles to CAC MDT engagement. Through the lenses of Miller’s (1958) Subcultural Theory and Schein’s (1998) theory of organizational culture, distinctions emerge between the traditional paramilitary structure and culture of law enforcement in contrast with the cultures of the other disciplines represented on the MDT. In Bronstein’s (2003) Model of Interdisciplinary Team Collaboration, team members co-create goals, understand each other’s roles, agree on joint processes, and are flexible. Police officers may encounter barriers to MDT engagement related to lack of institutional support from law enforcement for their MDT role, gendered role assumptions about CAC MDT assignment of officers, a lack of sufficient training regarding child abuse, and limited resources for their MDT participation. Previous research does not address barriers to CAC MDT engagement for law enforcement and how to address them.

Fifteen police officers, in jurisdictions served by one of the 32 CACs in Pennsylvania, participated in in-depth individual interviews about their experiences and perceptions with CAC MDTs, following a semi-structured guide. I also sought support from CACs leaders in identifying potential law enforcement participants and background information on their CAC. This study, though small, produced seven key themes and the findings are encouraging: (1) officers want to participate and want the MDT to succeed, and they view men and women as equally well equipped for this work, although women are disproportionately assigned to CACs; (2) CACs and DAs’ offices can reduce law enforcement barriers to MDT engagement through education, example, building rapport, and providing resources; and (3) state regulations and policies matter because they can provide basic standards of practice for law enforcement participation with CACs. The key implication is that officer engagement on CAC MDTs is not a law enforcement issue, but all CAC MDT members can play a role in engaging officers and other members in the team’s success in serving children and families.