Revisit funding for child victims' advocacy

Child abuse comes to light with sickening regularity, from sexual abuse perpetrated by adults in a position of trust to the terrible death this year of 5-year-old A.J. Freund of Crystal Lake, whose parents are accused of his murder.

Cases that come before Children's Advocacy Centers are increasing in number, sometimes sharply, in part because of an increased focus on a historically underreported crime. The centers use child-friendly surroundings, toys and comfort animals, and specially trained professionals to keep a scared child safe and as comfortable as possible as he or she recounts the horrible details that might make an abuser accountable in court.

Illinois has 39 Children's Advocacy Centers, and a few in the suburbs are suffering the unintended consequences of a law meant to set some parameters for funding the organizations. We urge lawmakers to take another look and fine-tune the law so that none of these crucial groups is penalized.

The law, our Lauren Rohr wrote on Wednesday, went into effect July 1 to create some order in court fines and fees charged by local jurisdictions across the state, a change urged by the Illinois Supreme Court. Children's Advocacy Centers can collect $10 on every misdemeanor and felony conviction to fund their operations.

But the Child Advocacy Center of McHenry County had been collecting $13 for every conviction including traffic convictions, which meant a loss of 40 percent of its revenue. Across the suburbs, centers in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties also are seeing funding reductions, while Lake County's center will collect more.

The bill's sponsor, former Republican state Rep. Steve Andersson of Geneva, points out the law has a 2020 sunset, so the General Assembly will have to reassess next year. The challenge will be to meet the funding needs of most Children's Advocacy Centers in the suburbs while not setting court fees at levels that are unnecessarily high in some other counties.

Keeping the goal of consistency, but phasing it in over several years, might be one solution that allows time for Children's Advocacy Centers to adjust and for other government and private funders to step in if needed.

The Children's Advocacy Centers need to be a priority for their important role in easing child victims' trauma while helping to coordinate a medical and law enforcement response to child abuse in our communities.

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