More than 4,000 children and family members in Collin County who are affected by neglect and abuse each year have found respite through the services offered by Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County.
Founded in 1992 by the Junior League of Collin County, CACCC is one of 70 advocacy centers in the state of Texas and now serves as a model for others across the country. Through a multidisciplinary team approach, the center provides forensic interviews, counseling services, family advocacy and support services to children and their families free of charge, along with community education outreach.
“We serve the child for their lifetime,” said Courtney Echols, vice president of development for CACCC. “Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line, and we know that. We are here every step of the way, however jagged that line may be.”
Children who visit the CACCC in Plano due to a suspicion that they are a victim of abuse find a child-friendly facility with 225 professionals dedicated to safety, healing and justice for them. The process begins with a forensic interview, which creates a safe place for the child to share their story. The interview is observed by law enforcement and a CPS caseworker, and if the child does, in fact, make an outcry of abuse, the team works together to develop a plan to keep the child safe and help them heal.
“Our family advocates are with the family from the first day they walk into the center until their case completes the criminal process,” Echols said. “That’s really important to us—that there’s somebody who walks alongside the family every step of the way.”
CACCC offers a number of other community-focused services and events throughout the year, including the Holiday Project, which is the chance to adopt a family or child and gift them toys and stocking stuffers for the holidays. Plus, the organization also hosts a Back To School Fair so children can receive any school supplies they need to start the school year strong. Help can also be catered directly to the needs of certain families.
“We may have a case where maybe mom wants to go back to school so she can get a better job because the offender was the primary breadwinner, and now the mom has four kids at home and no job ... and she needs a laptop, so we find her a laptop,” Echols said. “What each family needs can be highly specific.”
It is important that community members can be a voice for children because only a handful of the cases the center receives are a result of an outcry made by a child. To ensure everyone is equipped to pick up the phone and make a report if needed, CACCC offers everything from classes to make sure parents can protect their children from cyber crimes, to child abuse awareness trainings in local schools.
“Ignorance is far from bliss,” Echols said. “The difference between turning a blind eye to it and being made aware is life changing for the children that we serve. We want people to know we’re here and there is a resource and there is hope.”
Due to the rising number of child abuse cases in Collin County, likely attributed to rapid population growth along with the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is set to open a second location in McKinney late this summer at the corner of Hwy. 75 and U.S. 380. The new 39,000-square-foot location will function exactly the same as the original office in Plano, meaning children and their families will still receive counseling services and forensic interviews there, along with other support services. CACCC ran a $10 million capital campaign to raise money for the new building, which wrapped up last December.
“We’ve had great partners who have been able to help us get up and running,” Echols said. “We will be able to better serve the northern part of the county, which is where the population is growing. This new facility will ensure that no child is ever turned away, no matter how large Collin County grows.”
Community members and businesses who would like to support CACCC also have the opportunity to donate throughout the year or by attending the annual gala, which was just held on April 2 for the first time back in person since 2019 due to the pandemic. The gala is typically the largest fundraiser for the year, generating roughly $1.4 million of the organization’s $5 million budget. CACCC also has about 200 “Guardian Angel” donors, which is any individual or company that commits to donating $5,000 over the course of five years.
“None of this would be possible without the support of the community,” Echols said. “People haven’t lost their ability to care, and if anything [the pandemic] has just revved their engines higher to continue to show up in unprecedented ways.”
While volunteering or being an advocate for the children is a positive thing for the community, it also means not being able to see the face of the child who has been helped.
“By taking this on, you’re committing to helping children whose faces you will never see. Children that you won’t be able to hug at the Back to School Fair,” CACCC CEO Lynne McLean said. “But you will help them in a way that will change the trajectory of their life. It is a legacy that can last a lifetime.”
Community members should know it is never too late to get involved or learn how to be better equipped to report suspected child abuse in Collin County.
“Whether that’s just coming for a tour or volunteering at one of our events or coming to the gala and getting to experience that as a guest, it’s never too late,” Echols said. “There’s a rich history here, but we need fresh ideas and fresh hearts just as much as we need our most loyal and longest supporters.”
To find out more about CACCC, visit https://www.caccollincounty.org/ or call 972-633-6600.
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