Election Year Boosts Awareness for Abused Children

When Mayor Richard M. Daley announced Oct. 15 that the city would kick in $1.5 million to build the nation’s largest center for abused children, political hopefuls vowed to find funding for the $4.75 million facility.

These commitments follow The Chicago Reporter’s January 1998 report revealing that support services for victims of child sexual assault–”1,650 in 1996 alone–”are spread thin in Cook County. The city plans to construct the facility at 13th Street and Damen Avenue; it will open in 2000.

And public officials are taking a new look at the Illinois Children’s Advocacy Center Act of 1989 as a possible source of additional funding. The state law provides that a petition signed by 1 percent of registered voters would authorize a countywide referendum asking for a maximum 0.004 percent property tax increase to fund services for sexual assault victims at child advocacy centers.

In January, Cook County officials told the Reporter they would not push for such a referendum. But gubernatorial hopefuls George Ryan and Glenn Poshard have since said they would support it.

On Oct. 20 a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Glenn Poshard (D-Marion), said he would back the referendum if voters want it. “He’s not going to call for increasing taxes if that’s not what the voters want,” said Kristin Nicholson, director of issues for the Poshard campaign. If a referendum fails in Cook, Poshard pledged to find funds in the $1.2 billion state surplus. “We can find the little bit that would be required to develop the kind of programs that would help that child overcome that trauma,” he told the Reporter Oct. 6.

Nicholson added, “We can’t commit to specific line items when we’re still trying to win an election, but absolutely I don’t see why there’s any reason why this can’t get funded in our first budget.”

On the other side of the aisle, Republican candidate and Secretary of State George Ryan said Oct. 8 in a written statement: “I would back the ability of people to raise their taxes through a referendum to support these centers in Cook County.”

But he added that promoting a property tax increase might be a hard sell. “The best way to convince voters about the need for this funding is to point out the number of children that are turned away from services every year at domestic violence shelters,” Ryan said.

Meanwhile on Oct. 15, Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. said that if he is re-elected, he would set aside $1 million from the 1999 county budget for the proposed city facility, the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center.

Stroger’s opponent, Republican candidate Aurelia M. Pucinski, responded that she would want to see the suburbs included. “If Cook County had an advocacy center, it just couldn’t be one because we have five suburban courthouses,” said Pucinski, clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Attorney General Jim Ryan, a longtime proponent of child advocacy centers, pledged $250,000 from his funds.

Ryan established the state’s first child advocacy center in 1987 when he served as DuPage County state’s attorney. Illinois has 17 advocacy centers, providing services that include treatment referrals, and investigative and prosecutorial activities.

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