Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center gets $1 million during awareness month

CCAC CEO Char Rivette has one nail painted blue to bring awareness to the statistic that 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18. (Damita Menezes/MEDILL)
Chicago Children's Advocacy Center CEO Char Rivette has one nail painted blue to bring awareness to the statistic that 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18. (Damita Menezes/MEDILL)

By Damita Menezes
Medill Reports

The Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (ChicagoCAC), a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and investigative services to child abuse victims, will receive $1 million in congressionally directed spending for building renovation.

“Child abuse is a chronic public health issue. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of children across the country are affected by child abuse. We receive about 2,300 reports of child sexual abuse alone here in the city of Chicago,” ChicagoCAC CEO Char Rivette said.

The center, which serves about 2,500 children a year for free, will use the money to create more therapy spaces and improve building security. With April marking Child Abuse Prevention Month, the funding came at the right time since there has been a high increase in the need for children’s mental health services.

The $1 million grant was a competitive request, with thousands of agencies across the country applying for congressionally directed spending. ChicagoCAC was chosen by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to receive the grant secured through the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

“If we need to bring peace to our neighborhoods, we need to bring peace to our families. We got to make sure there is a positive environment of the home these children grew up in,” Durbin said in a news conference on April 6. “We also have to give kids hope for the future.”

More than 600,000 children are abused in the U.S. each year, according to the National Children’s Alliance.

While the number of cases being investigated has remained relatively stable, the center has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children seeking mental health services due to the trauma of community violence, isolation and family stress associated with the pandemic, according to Rivette.

The center, which serves the entire city, reported having more than 300 kids on a waitlist for mental health treatment during the first year of COVID-19. Though the number has decreased, the center still reports having around 150 kids waiting for treatment now.

ChicagoCAC also has long-term plans to expand its services by creating the Chicago Advocacy Network for Hope (CAN Hope) Center. CAN Hope is an initiative that aims to provide a safe space for adults experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking. The creation of CAN Hope will require significant funding and space, with a budget of $40 million.

The center is seeking funds from the state of Illinois and Congress and has already received $5 million from the city of Chicago. The organization plans to reach out to foundations and individuals for additional support.

Rivette stressed the importance of creating safe environments for children and adults and promoting awareness of child abuse as a public health issue.

“Until we eradicate child abuse as a common thing that occurs, we are obligated as adults because it’s our job to protect kids. It’s not kids’ responsibility to protect themselves,” Rivette said.

“Yes, we want to teach them how to be aware of their environment and how to protect themselves,” Rivette said. “But kids are going to be protected because we as adults are out there setting up the environments to be safe for children.”

The center is set to hold its main fundraiser, the Luminary Award Dinner, on April 26. The event will feature luminaries Sheila McGinn Dorman and Jacki Robinson Ivy and will include live and silent auctions and a raffle. The center hopes to raise the necessary funds to support its programs and services for children in need.

Damita Menezes is a graduate student in the video & broadcast specialization. Connect with her on her website

Editor’s note April 20, 2023, 10:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to use the correct abbreviation of Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, ChicagoCAC, and to correct the last name of Sheila McGinn Dorman.