“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” – Herbert Ward, former director of St. Jude’s Ranch for Children

Herbert Ward, a longtime children’s advocate, was correct. He was also correct in knowing that immediate help — psychological, medical, legal, material — could do a world of good in assisting victims of child abuse. His voice, along with those of caring people like him, in recent decades, brought the terrible reality of child abuse into the public consciousness. They were instrumental in helping establish an environment where the youngest in our society more readily get help and begin healing.

One of the most worthy and welcoming places offering such assistance is Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County (CACCC), where children find caring professionals and community partners who help them through the nightmare of abuse and neglect.

Along with the main center in Plano, a new satellite facility has opened in McKinney and makes up the north branch of the CACCC. This center, which services McKinney, Prosper, Frisco, Princeton and smaller communities in the northern part of Collin County, is located at 1500 S. Central Expressway.

Providing safety, healing and justice at the Children’s Advocacy Center is a team effort, and every action undertaken is done with clear and simple goals in mind: to minimize the trauma or suffering a child already feels and improve their situation. Child protective services, law enforcement officials, therapists, caseworkers, interns, nurses and volunteers, can all be found – under one roof – ready to help.

 

The CACCC, one of our community’s vital non-profit agencies, began in 1992 after a task force from the Junior League of Plano identified sexual and physical abuse as increasingly important priorities the county needed to address. In the years since, this unique public-private collaboration has served over 43,000 children and non-offending family members.

Many citizens are surprised to find that the CACCC is not a government agency.

Many citizens are surprised to find that the CACCC is not a government agency. Although it does receive some assistance from state and local governments (less than 20 percent of its operating budget) the vast majority of its funding comes from private citizens and corporate support. Remarkably, all CACCC services are provided at no charge and no children are ever put on a waiting list. The county is fortunate to have the CACCC to assist children in need of its help, and Collin County’s agency now serves as a model for other Children’s advocacy centers throughout America.

The Center’s concept originated in 1985 when former Alabama Congressman Robert E. “Bud” Cramer, then a district attorney, organized an effort to create a better system to help abused children. Until this time, social services and the criminal justice systems were not, from a child’s perspective, working together in the most effective and reassuring manner. Children who experienced abuse were often interviewed numerous times by untrained adults, and the unconsolidated method of assistance frequently caused further disturbance – even frightening experiences for young victims.

The model developed through former Congressman Cramer’s vision pulls law enforcement, child protective services, medical and mental health workers onto one coordinated team. The Center became a nationwide benchmark for this process, both in the direct care of traumatized children and the training of professionals.

On a local/regional level, an impressive part of the CACCC’s body of influence was its work with Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro to create a set of laws dealing with sexual offences against children. Collectively known as “Ashley’s Laws” (named after seven-year-old Ashley Estell, who was abducted and murdered in Plano in 1993), the laws provide for longer prison sentences and that convicted sex offenders register with law enforcement officials.

 

Often feeling frightened and lost, children are given their choice of a toy to take with them and keep forever.

 

McKinney and Collin County unfortunately have the need for a comprehensive organization like the Children’s Advocacy Center. There are over 700 centers throughout the nation and 64 in Texas. Sadly, by the age of 18, one in four girls and one in six boys will have been abused, and only one in 10 will tell someone. It has been statistically shown that a child today has a greater chance of experiencing sexual abuse than being in a car accident or breaking a bone. There are 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America, and the number continues to grow. In 2011 in Collin County alone, there were over 4,700 reports of child abuse.

How has the CACCC helped? In 2011 it performed nearly 800 forensic interviews to begin the process of identifying abuse or neglect and conducted over 100 sexual-assault medical exams. CACCC’s affiliated Crimes Against Children division brought 122 cases to trial and saw a 97.5 percent conviction rate.

Remarkably, all CACCC services are provided at no charge and no children are ever put on a waiting list.

These statistics sound sad and frightening, but it helps to remember the countless things the CACCC is able to do – and it does them every single day of the year: It provides genuine love and care, material assistance and essential medical, legal and therapeutic services. Thanks to the CACCC, thousands of children in the county are doing better and have the best chance of healing and moving forward to enjoy healthy, happier lives.

 

An extension of the Rainbow Room, these shelves contain emergency supplies for children.

 

There are many ways the public can help. Along with financial donations and assistance, volunteers are greatly appreciated. They provide childcare and operational support and help organize donations of new clothes and basic-care items (shampoo, soap, blankets, etc), which are used by CPS workers who assist children in crisis. Donating time, goods and finances are deeply appreciated. The children of Collin County – and now McKinney, specifically – benefit from having a model children’s advocacy agency in its midst.

For more information on the Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center, please visit caccollincounty.org. If you suspect abuse or neglect of a child – or wish to learn more about helping or have further questions – please call the center at 972-633-6600.

THE STATISTICS:

•  By the age of 18, one in four girls and one in six boys will have been abused, and only one in 10 will tell someone.

•  There are 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America.

•  In 2011 in Collin County alone, there were over 4,700 reports of child abuse.

 

Christopher Foster is a writer and photographer living in McKinney.