Helping the Helpers: During COVID-19, Children's Advocacy Center struggles to serve young abuse victims

Helping the Helpers: During COVID-19, Children's Advocacy Center struggles to serve young abuse victims

  • Founded in 1989, the Children's Advocacy Center is based in Hoffman Estates and has satellite offices in Streamwood, Northbrook and Evanston.

    Founded in 1989, the Children's Advocacy Center is based in Hoffman Estates and has satellite offices in Streamwood, Northbrook and Evanston. Courtesy of Children's Advocacy Center

 
 
Posted5/1/2020 5:57 AM

The Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County provides direct services for children who are suspected victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse, or witnesses to domestic violence or other violent crimes.

Founded in 1989, the organization is based in Hoffman Estates and has satellite offices in Streamwood, Northbrook and Evanston.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Daily Herald checked in with Executive Director Mark Parr to learn more about the organization and how it has been affected by the pandemic.

Q. Who does your nonprofit serve, and how do you serve them?

A. The CAC serves children ages birth through 17 years and their families in 38 communities in North and Northwest suburban Cook County. We are normally contacted by the police or DCFS after a child has made a disclosure of abuse or been identified as a possible victim of abuse.

Our goal is to reduce the trauma of the investigation by coordinating a single interview of the child, and then provide the support and intervention children and families need to survive this process and heal from the abuse.

All services are offered free and are provided in English or in Spanish. The CAC is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to respond to emergency situations where the child may be at risk of further harm.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
The CAC Library is where the Multidisciplinary Team (police officers, DCFS, state's attorney, CAC advocate and forensic interviewers) meet to discuss cases before and after forensic interviews.
The CAC Library is where the Multidisciplinary Team (police officers, DCFS, state's attorney, CAC advocate and forensic interviewers) meet to discuss cases before and after forensic interviews. - Courtesy of Children's Advocacy Center

Our services include coordination of the investigation of child abuse reports with our partners from local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office; expert child interviews; crisis intervention; referrals for medical evaluations, trauma-informed therapy services, and other needed follow-up services, ongoing support and advocacy with the court system; and individual, family and group therapy for child survivors of abuse, and their families.

The Center has a very specialized program called Safe from the Start that serves children from birth through age 5 who have been exposed to violence or maltreatment and their families, and more recently, the CAC has started providing Body Safety and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention services for young children, their parents and professionals who work with children.

Q. From where do the majority of your donations come? Is there an annual fundraising event?

A. Approximately 55% of our annual budget is provided through government grants and contracts with state agencies, such as the Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, and the Office of the Attorney General, as well as from local townships, mental health boards and municipalities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The remaining funds are raised through grants from private foundations, corporate support and donations from members of the community.

Our major fundraising event, the Hope, Heal and Grow Gala, was scheduled for May 2 this year and had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Q. How many people per year does your agency help?

A. Last year, 1,183 children and adults received direct services through one or more or the agency's programs, and hundreds of children and adults participated in our Abuse Prevention sessions.

Q. How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your organization and its ability to help those in need?

A. In terms of program operations, the COVID-19 crisis has had a major impact on our ability to serve children who have experienced abuse.

"Our clients say they feel more comfortable in a home-like setting," Executive Director Mark Parr says of the Children's Advocacy Center's Hoffman Estates location.
"Our clients say they feel more comfortable in a home-like setting," Executive Director Mark Parr says of the Children's Advocacy Center's Hoffman Estates location. - Courtesy of Children's Advocacy Center

First, our services, whether interviewing possible victims of abuse, offering support and crisis intervention, or providing therapy for children and families, involves face-to-face contact.

Since COVID-19 has made this type of contact unsafe, we've had to use technology to conduct telehealth therapy sessions, for those who have access to technology, or maintain contact through telephone calls to client families.

We are also attempting to conduct tele-forensic interviews in situations that require an investigative response. We are very concerned that there are children that may be confined to home in situations that are not safe for them, without their normal access to teachers, friends or other relatives to whom they might be able to report the abuse they have experienced.

From a financial standpoint, the cancellation of the agency's major fundraising event has had a significant impact on our financial position. This may become an issue in the near future as we anticipate that we will see an increase in reports and requests for services as we return to "normal" life.

Q. How can readers help?

A. I would say the two things readers can do are to remain aware of children who may be at-risk and report concerns to the Child Abuse Hot Line at (800) 25-ABUSE, and for those able to help our agency directly, to visit our website at www.cachelps.org to make a donation.

Q. If someone is in need of your organization's help, what should they do?

A. Contact the CAC at (847) 885-0100 or send an email to info@cachelps.org. If there is an emergency involving the safety of a child, please call 911 and report this to the local police department.

About this series

"Helping the Helpers" is a series of short stories on how you can support suburban social service agencies that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Know of a nonprofit or agency we should feature? Email sklovstad@dailyherald.com.

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