The Children’s Assessment Center Beams Light on a Dark, Destructive Secret

Every year an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 children in Kent County are sexually abused. Only 1 in 15 of those cases is ever disclosed. The Children’s Assessment Center was created in 1993 as a safe, caring, place where sexually abused children come—800 of them last year—for investigation, therapy, and healing in a child-centered setting.

This month the CAC kicks off the final portion of a $2.65 million capital campaign allowing them to serve more children whose young lives are traumatized, most often by people they know. The Center will move into a LEED-certified, renovated building at 2855 Michigan NE with 14,000 square feet more than doubling their current space. This larger new facility means children will get treatment as soon as they disclose. Right now forty sexually abused children are on a waiting list for one to two months before they can start counseling—adding to the trauma they’ve already experienced. To date, the CAC has raised $2.25 million.

“The support from the community has been overwhelming,” including The Wege Foundation, said Susan Shannon, the CAC’s Executive Director. She wants to see more public recognition that this dark secret—99% of the abusers are relatives or acquaintances—must enter the light of day to protect innocent children. 53% of the children are under age six. Under six years-old.

Susan Shannon likened it to an “epidemic. And we have to talk about it.”

The CAC is talking about it through KIDZ Have Rights, the Center’s outreach program for children from kindergarten through fourth grade. With age-appropriate language and props, the CAC’s educators make the sensitive topic developmentally appropriate. They help children identify a safe adult to tell if they ever receive “selfish” touches.

The good news is that 21,000 children in Kent County from 18 of 20 school districts participate in the KIDZ program every year. That means five times through their K-4 th grades these students hear what to do if this happens to them.

With the CAC’s new larger building, abused children will no longer have to go on a waiting list before their healing process can begin. And with heightened awareness, more adults will be able to recognize and report when abuse takes place. The CAC is now asking for the community’s help to make this happen.

*Pictured above: CAC Executive Director with Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, Mary Nelson, Leslie Young, Wege Foundation Program Assistant, and Susan Bailey from Steelcase who co-chairs the CAC’s new capital campaign.

Wege family members Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, and Mary Nelson and Sarah Zuidema, Clinical Director, observe Detective Matt Hooker working with Jaycee, the therapy dog at the Children’s Assessment Center. Jaycee and the toys in this CAC room are ways abused children are healed. Detective Hooker deals with the criminal abusers.