The Child Advocacy Center model was born out of Huntsville, Alabama in 1985. Developed by former Congressman, Bud Cramer, the model arose to address key flaws in the child welfare system that siloed the agencies who responded to child abuse investigations. Cramer believed that by bringing together the Multidisciplinary Team of law enforcement, health and human services, and medical and mental health providers, we’d see an increase in successful prosecution rates and better outcomes for child victims and their non-offending caregivers. This model quickly gained traction and spread across the United States.
The Lincoln-Lancaster Child Advocacy Center opened its doors on October 11, 1998. Prior, there was no formalized response to cases of child sexual abuse in Southeast Nebraska. Children were often interviewed at school by multiple professionals, at home where the abuse occurred, or at the police station with their abuser in the interrogation room next door. None of these environments were child friendly or victim centered, and therefore investigations usually ended without an arrest or resolution. Abusers were not held accountable for their actions and were often allowed back in the home with their victims. Families did not have necessary resources or support to address the impact of trauma in their children’s lives.
The Child Advocacy Center’s Founding Executive Director, Lynn Ayers, along with seven other community members saw the need for better services for children and families in Southeast Nebraska. This group, called "The Huntsville Eight", included:
- Lynn Ayers, Supervisor at Child Protective Services
- Gary Lacey, Lancaster County Attorney
- Terry Wagner, Lancaster County Sheriff
- Frank Rowe, Captain at the Lincoln Police Department
- Vicki Weisz from UNL Center for Children, Family and the Law
- Paul Jensen, Kerry Fisher, Sheri Dawson- representatives from each of the three hospitals
The Child Advocacy Center became a 501c3 Non-Profit organization in 1996, with Lynn as the Executive Director. The City of Lincoln supported the development of the Center by securing an abandoned house in Antelope Park, while Lynn worked on grant funding to remodel the house. Lynn worked with various community donors and volunteers to completely remodel the abandoned house and turn it into a child friendly facility for children to have forensic interviews, medical exams, and support for their families. After two years of fundraising and remodeling, the Child Advocacy Center was finally able to open its doors to begin serving the community, becoming known as the Little Yellow House.
Support for the Child Advocacy Center slowly grew over the years as the model proved effective. In our first year we served 30 children from Lancaster County. Over the next decade, the additional 16 counties in our current service area began utilizing the CAC, and our numbers grew to over 1,000 children per year in 2011.
As utilization increased, so did the need for additional staff. The staff and available resources grew to include:
- Forensic Interviewers who helped officers and caseworkers by providing forensic interviews that followed a national protocol.
- Child Advocates who assisted the non-offending caregiver by providing them support, resources, and education about their criminal justice system and their rights
- Case Coordinator to assist County Attorneys facilitate team meetings and ensure that all cases were being investigated properly and jointly by members of the multidisciplinary teams
- Medical professionals who had the knowledge and experience in assessing childhood sexual and physical abuse, and were able to testify to their findings
- Individual, family, and group therapy offered to families at no charge so that families may begin the healing process
Each year the number of children served increased. This was partially due to the training and increased knowledge of child sexual assault cases and reporting laws, and partially due to multidisciplinary teams seeing the value of bringing cases to the CAC. By 2007-2008, it was apparent that the Little Yellow House was too small to serve all of the children and families, and to house the growing staff. We launched the capital campaign for our current location in 2008, needing $2.5 million dollars to complete the project.
In May 2009, Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney) and his wife, Cara pledged a very generous gift of one million dollars to help build the new Child Advocacy Center, allowing us to begin construction in April 2010. On January 18, 2011 the new Child Advocacy Center was open at 5025 Garland Street.
In 2014, satellite offices were open in York and Nebraska City to accommodate for the long travel times and to assist families within their own communities. The Nebraska City satellite later moved to Auburn. These satellites are staffed by CAC staff certain days of the week.
In 2019, the Child Advocacy Center started planning for future expansion. Through planning sessions with CAC staff, board members and key agency stakeholders, it was determined that an additional building was needed to allow for the CAC staff to grow and expand services. The expansion will allow for additional mental health services, training and prevention and community partners. The founding Executive Director, Lynn Ayers, retired in June 2020. She had served at the CAC for over 20 years and was instrumental to the growing of the CAC.
The Board of Directors hired Paige Piper as the new Executive Director. Paige had previously served as the Center’s Development Director from 2016-2018. In 2020, another Capital Campaign, titled “Room to Heal” began to allow for the expansion in mental health, training and prevention services.