Objective: To provide immediate intervention, coordination of investigations, comprehensive counseling and family support services for sexually abused children and their families in Chicago.
In a Nutshell: CCAC is a nonprofit that brings police, prosecutors, social workers, psychologists and physicians together in one building to work on behalf of sexually abused children. Partnering agencies include the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Department of Children and Family Services and Bureau of Health Services.
Where It Happens: CCAC operates in a new one-story building paid for by the City of Chicago and Cook County on land donated by the Illinois Medical District. The building features pastel colored bricks on the outside, brightly colored furniture and an indoor playground.
When It Began: The planning began in 1998, and CCAC officially opened in August 2001.
Who Started It: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley championed the development of CCAC. Other agency leaders who were influential in CCAC’s development were Dick Devine, Cook County’s state attorney; Mark Cavins, chief of Devine’s sex crimes prosecution division; and Robert Hargesheimer, commanding officer in the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit.
Who Runs It: Daley appointed Executive Director Erin Sorenson in 1998 to develop the center. Sorenson came from the Children’s Advocacy Center in the northwest Cook County suburbs, which served as a model for CCAC.
Early Obstacles: Despite high-level political commitment, it was difficult to convince large bureaucracies to change their procedures and coordinate their services.
How They Overcame Them: Small working groups within the steering committee met over several years to develop policies and procedures. Changes became less daunting once participants learned that most problems stemmed from standard operating procedures within agencies, not from laws or written agency policies.
Cost: The annual operating budget is $3 million.
Who Pays: The center receives most of its support from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the City of Chicago, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Who Else Has Kicked In: About 10 percent of funding comes through corporations or foundations. Foundation supporters include the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, the Blowitz Ridgeway Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust and the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation.
Youth Served: The center serves children who were abused within the city limits. On average, sexually abused children in Chicago are 8 years old, and 75 percent are girls. More than 90 percent are from families whose income is at or below the poverty line. More than half the families are black and one-third are Latino.
Youth Turn-On: The center has been designed to make children feel at home. “Because they are involved in police and child protective services investigations, it is critical that children know they have done nothing wrong and are not stigmatized in any way,” says Sorenson.
Youth Turn-Off: Talking about abuse and undergoing medical exams.
Research Show: A 2001 evaluation conducted by the University of Illinois noted that almost 80 percent of families that came to CCAC were receiving referrals for mental health services, and half the victims’ families accepted the referrals.
What Still Gets in the Way: Difficulties in finding mental health providers who are qualified to treat sexually abused children in their own communities. The center is working with agencies to find and train more providers. Also, although the agency is in a new building, CCAC has already run out of space. An expansion is in the works.