We understand that you may be nervous about coming to Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (ChicagoCAC).
We are here to help you and your child. We have helped more than 38,000 children and families like yours since we opened our doors in 2001.
Getting to ChicagoCAC
We are located at 1240 South Damen Avenue, just south of Roosevelt Road. The main entrance to our facility is through the parking lot on the West side.
We have a large, free parking lot on the west side of the building that you are welcome to use. If you do not have reliable transportation, we can provide it for you.
What to Say to Your Child
We understand that explaining ChicagoCAC to your child may feel scary and maybe overwhelming. You know your child best, so we encourage you to speak to them at their level and be honest.
For younger children, consider saying something like:
We are going to Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. The center is a special place where kids go to talk about important things. The person you will be talking to talks to lots of kids about different things. It’s okay to tell them everything. You are not in any trouble.
For older youth, be honest. A few things we recommend:
- You’re not in any trouble.
- We’re going to Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center to talk to someone about what happened.
- What happens at the center isn’t like the police interrogations you’ve seen on TV. You’ll be in a room with a nice person who will just ask you some questions.
- You need to be totally honest. Nothing bad will happen to you for telling the truth.
- It’s OK to be nervous, but you don’t have anything to be afraid of. The people at the center are here to help.
An Overview of Your Day
We know this can be an anxious time for you and your family. At ChicagoCAC, we work with a team of professionals from law enforcement and the Department of Children and Family Services. When you come to ChicagoCAC, you will be able to meet the professionals working on your child’s case and ask them further questions.
In brief, here is what happens at ChicagoCAC:
- You will meet with a family advocate. Your family advocate guides you through your day at ChicagoCAC. Our family advocates are social workers and counselors who specialize in helping families in situations like yours. Your advocate will explain what happens at the center, answer your questions, and connect you with resources you may need for things like counseling, food and housing.
- You and your child can ask your family advocate anything.
- You and your child will get a short tour of the rooms you’ll be in. Your advocate will show you the forensic interview suite, child life room and the medical clinic and answer your questions. We want you to feel comfortable and informed.
- Your children are invited to play in our child life room. Our child life staff are trained professionals in supporting children and self-led play. The room has snacks, video games, dolls, puzzles, crafts and other activities.
- Your child will have a forensic interview. Your child will speak with a forensic interviewer about what happened. Our forensic interviewers are experts in having child-friendly, sensitive conversations. As a caregiver, you will get to meet the interviewer, but for your child’s benefit, you may not observe the interview. (Please see the tab titled “Forensic Interview” below for more information about forensic interviews.)
- You will talk to the team investigating your case. The forensic interview is observed by the police detective and DCFS investigator (if applicable). After your child’s forensic interview, your team will discuss the case with you.
- Your child may have a medical exam. We offer physicals at our on-site medical clinic to help reassure your child that their body is OK. You are allowed in the room during the exam and can ask the physician questions at that time. (More on medical exams below.)
The forensic interview (or FI) is a very important part of your child’s visit to the center. A forensic interview is a structured conversation that is designed to obtain information from the child about an event they have experienced. A forensic interview is not an interrogation; your child will be asked open-ended questions.
Interviews are conducted by specialized forensic interviewers, who have advanced training on how to talk to children about difficult subjects. Our interviewers move at a pace that is comfortable for your child, following your child’s cues about when to listen and when to ask an additional question. They never force a child to talk to them. Only professionals directly involved in the investigation are allowed to observe the interview. No one else – including parents, caregivers or extra members of our staff – are allowed to be in the room with the child or in the observation room. This is done to reduce your child’s stress and to provide a neutral setting for the child and the investigation. It’s important that any details about the alleged abuse come from the child.
You will stay with your child up to the point they are interviewed, and you will be reunited immediately afterwards. We can assure you that your child will be very well treated, be in a safe environment and in the care of highly trained and qualified individuals for the brief time that he or she is separated from your care.
Your Time During the Interview
During your child’s interview, you will meet with your family advocate. Family advocates are not therapists, but they can listen and get you the help you need. They will listen to your worries and concerns and provide resources to help you through this difficult time. They will answer any questions you have or, if they don’t know the answer, they will find the person who does.
After the Interview
Once the interview is completed, you will be able to meet with the Detective and the DCFS investigator (if applicable) to discuss the status of the case. They will tell you in general terms what they learned from the interview. You will have an opportunity to ask questions and voice your concerns.
Remember, your child’s interview is just the first step in the investigative process. There may be other witnesses that need to be interviewed. There may be physical evidence that needs to be photographed or collected. The alleged offender will be interviewed.
All of the information will be turned over to the attorney who will decide whether or not to prosecute. If DCFS is investigating the case as well, the investigator and their supervisor will work to keep your child safe using the information from from your child’s interview. If you have questions at any point during the investigation or prosecution of your child’s case, please feel free to contact your advocate.
The medical exams at ChicagoCAC are not invasive, but they are slightly different from a typical appointment with a primary care physician. The doctor will conduct a physical, but they will only look on the outside of the genital area to assess health and development, as well as provide any needed testing for STDs or infection.
Our on-site medical clinic is run by board-certified child abuse pediatricians, who specialize in recognizing the signs of abuse for the whole body. They provide developmentally-sensitive, trauma-informed medical assessments and care for children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse and other types of harm. We specialize in supporting children of all different ages, abilities, and comfort levels.
Many children who come to ChicagoCAC are worried that their bodies are “damaged” or permanently harmed. Seeing our specialized pediatricians helps children understand that their bodies are OK, and they feel less worried or anxious afterward.
You will have the opportunity to talk with the doctor one-on-one about the exam, your child’s medical history and any questions you have.
You do not need to find childcare for your visit to the center, as we offer free child care in our child life room. Our child life staff have backgrounds in child development and are trained to engage all your children in safe and supportive play. Please let us know if your children have any special needs (e.g. allergies or IEPs).
Not every child who comes to ChicagoCAC will benefit from counseling or therapy, but many do. Your family advocate will gather more information about mental health concerns you have for your family, explain our referral process, and, if appropriate, link you to ChicagoCAC’s PATHH program.