ChicagoCAC is the city’s only nonprofit that responds to reports of child sexual abuse, and coordinating a child’s initial visit to our building can be difficult. Our Intake team reaches out to families and arranges for them to come into the center for forensic interviews, often navigating tricky interpersonal dynamics, complicated schedules, and transportation barriers to do so. We asked Hailey King, one of our Intake Coordinators, to talk about about the role she plays at ChicagoCAC.
Where does your role fit into the ChicagoCAC process?
Intake coordinators are the first point of contact for families, so we set the tone for their experience. Some families are very supportive of the [abuse] allegations, and some families are not, but either way our job is to make them feel as comfortable as they can when they come to the center and explain that we are here to help.
How did you get into doing intake coordination?
I didn’t know there was such a thing as a CAC, let alone a nationwide network of them, before I came to work at ChicagoCAC. I was trained as an elementary school teacher and worked for a while at a babysitting placement agency, but I wanted something less routine, that would keep me on my toes, where I could interact with people.
This job came at the perfect time in my life. When I got here, I was like, “Whoa, what am I getting myself into?” but I really fell in love with the work here, with the staff and everyone I work with. Usually when I tell people the kind of work we do, their reaction is “Oh my God, that’s horrible, how do you deal with that?” But for me, I think what we do here is a positive thing rather than a negative. It fulfills me and makes me feel like I’m part of an essential process.
I imagine it can be very chaotic, coordinating so many moving pieces.
It’s challenging to collaborate with so many different groups at once. We work with partners like Chicago Police Department and Department of Children and Family Services, along with many teams within ChicagoCAC itself, and it can be difficult to keep things organized. Communication with my coworkers is definitely key. I’m lucky because my boss is awesome. I can say, “Look, I need help. I’m feeling overwhelmed, can you help me with this?” and she’s always there. Without that support system, I think things would be a lot more challenging.
The pace of the work can also be really erratic. Some days we are super slow, but earlier this week my coworker and I had to each handle a case in a matter of about three hours, so we were frantic. You get days where suddenly, it’s seven o’clock, and you don’t know where all the time went.
What is your approach with parents who aren’t supportive of the abuse allegations?
Sometimes parents may say things like, “Why are you calling me? This didn’t happen to my kids!” And we can’t disclose to them all the information we know, or what we personally think happened. As an intake coordinator, you have to work your way through how to say things that aren’t going to offend parents or upset them, but also encourage them to bring their children in. I’ll have a parent on the phone for 45 minutes, and they can start off really hostile. But by the time we get off the phone, they’re praising me and saying, “Thank you so much for listening to me, I just needed someone to listen because I don’t know what to do.”
What parts of your job do you find most rewarding?
I’ve been able to shadow people in different departments so I can answer questions about exactly what happens day-to-day for children at the center, step by step. And I can rely on our advocates, or our therapists, to back up what I’m telling these parents, because they really are here for the family, and also the victims.
It’s rewarding when parents are supportive of allegations, or they ask questions so they can better advocate for their children. I had an incident once where one sibling had assaulted another, and the allegations proved to be true. The mother was completely torn. She’s like, “I don’t know what to do. These are my kids, and I’m so mad at him, but he’s my son and I love him. But she’s my daughter and she’s the victim and I want to be there for her.”
I was on the phone with her for almost an hour and she kept saying, “Thank you for listening. Nobody has let me just vent and talk through this.” I don’t mind taking an hour out of my day if it helps to validate these parents’ feelings and make them feel, even for five minutes, like everything is going to be okay and people are here to help.
Any final thoughts?
I feel like the more you allow somebody to open up to you, the more they trust you and trust our process. I’m the first person these families come in contact with, and my goal is to get them in for an interview so that we can set them up with advocacy services, have a proper forensic interview, and move things along. If I’m cold on the phone, it’s not going to make them want to come in, so I always try and be really positive. If they want to talk to me for an hour, I let them. If they want to yell at me, I will let them yell at me, and by the end of the call, they’ve done a total 180. I just try and be as positive as I can and supportive of their feelings, whether it’s anger or sadness or confusion. I just try and be compassionate.