Susan Hogan retired from Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center in February 2021, but before that, she was the longtime Chief Operating Officer, starting even before ChicagoCAC had a building. Over the next two decades, she helped guide ChicagoCAC through expanding its space and finding ways to work with its partners, which makes her the perfect spotlight for our 20th anniversary celebration.
How did you come to connect with ChicagoCAC in the first place?
It was 1999, I had just adopted my son, and I was doing consulting for some companies on policies and procedures. It turned out that my new neighbor, who moved in two doors away from me on the northwest side, had run the Advocacy Center in Hoffman Estates and had moved into the city from the suburbs to be the first executive director of the new Chicago center. We got to talking and I learned that she needed somebody to write policy for the center as it was developing. So that’s how I started, as a consultant.
After the agency was incorporated in 1999, it was just the executive director and one or two other people working out of an office in City Hall. I worked out of my home, and every once in a while, I remember putting my son in a stroller and going down to City Hall for meetings. Before we moved into the center, we hired interviewers and social workers, and they were all housed in the county building at 69 West Washington because City Hall didn’t have enough space.
It was a period of training and getting ready. And that first year, we received a million dollar grant from the city, as well as a few private grants for equipment for the medical clinic. I was purchasing colposcopes and all sorts of equipment I hadn’t heard of before.
What was it like getting the center opened?
Our staff had moved into the building in the spring of 2001 and DFCS came in June, as I recall. But we weren’t doing cases because we didn’t have the police on board yet, although we knew they were coming. And then all of a sudden, we get the phone call that police orders have changed, and tomorrow, they’ll be there. That’s how quickly it happened.
As prepared as we were–we had the staff on board, and we had the space–there was certainly still lots of excitement and anxiety. We got the first case the day we opened, August 5. Everybody was running around, and everybody wanted to be with this family, because it was the first case. I remember that we went out and got McDonald’s and pizza for the family.
What was the overall evolution of the center like?
How we came to be was Mayor Daley recognizing that by 1998 all other jurisdictions in Cook County had children’s advocacy centers except for the City of Chicago. To get the various entities–Chicago Police Department, DCFS, Cook County State’s Attorneys, medical–to work together was difficult. Hammering out the agreements and protocols we all work under, and getting everyone to agree on how we’re going to approach these cases, took the lion’s share of effort before we opened. Making this happen was a huge accomplishment.
Our role in the beginning as the nonprofit, I think, was to make sure the partners were happy. DCFS was used to taking cases like this, but it took a while for the police to adjust to this new way of working, as a lot of officers didn’t know we existed at first. It also took a bit to get officers who chose to work at ChicagoCAC to be part of the team rather than just being assigned here for a year or two.
There was a police officer named Scott Keenan whose sole job was partner relations: He worked at the center and spent all day putting out fires and trying to get people to see the benefit of working together. He also worked to explain the benefit of conducting forensic interviews (FIs) at the center. Prior to ChicagoCAC opening, FIs were being done in hospitals and other places that weren’t necessarily trauma-informed. Scott would go to the police academy and provide education on who we were, the services we provided, and how the police were supposed to call in sexual abuse cases.
In the beginning, mental health was a very small department. Did you foresee the need for more space for expanded services like a mental health clinic?
At the time, there were always a couple therapists on staff and we were doing emergency care when it was needed. We looked at our role as getting children into services in their communities, but then we found out that there really wasn’t a lot of opportunity for them to do that. That’s where the network of treatment providers, which eventually became the PATHH Collaboration, actually started.
Before the center was even completed, we knew it wasn’t going to be big enough. Once you finally get the commitments, and then the partners tell you how many people they are going to bring, we thought, that’s not going to work for very long.
Prior to building the two-story addition in 2015, there was a cinderblock back wall covered with tiles with pictures of stuffed animals. That was put up purposely so it could be taken down and we could add to the building.
What were the highlights of your time here and what were some of the challenges?
I think one of my biggest accomplishments was building the addition, and I felt really proud of that because it was so well constructed. I was not involved in the original construction, but I was involved with the punch list, or the list of things that still need to be done, and when it was handed to me, there were still a lot of construction issues. We had air conditioning issues and other building problems that took time to resolve.
Also, working with the partners, who certainly weren’t operating under consensus at first, could be challenging. Initially, we took the role of trying to appease everyone, but we’ve come a long way since then, and part of that is the partners coming to appreciate the collaborative work that the center does. I remember the first time I saw a detective walk down the hallway and poke his head into my office. “Can I help you?” I asked. He said, “I’m looking for…therapy? Don’t we have, you know, mental health somewhere? I have a kid I think needs it.” That was a wow moment for me.
With all of those challenges, especially at first, what kept you coming back for nearly two decades?
Officially, it’s 19 years–that’s when I went full-time and on the payroll. But really, I was probably around for 20 or 21 years. And I was already seasoned. I had worked for a good 20 years prior to that, and in lots of different settings. Really, the reason that I stayed was tied to the mission and people. And just the importance of the work. I felt this was home for me. Sitting in my basement, figuring out policies and procedures, and knowing that the whole way we dealt with abuse cases in the City of Chicago was going to change was so compelling. To be involved in something like that from the get-go was really cool, and then to see the cases start coming in–that’s what kept me coming back.