The Union County Prosecutor’s Office Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a satellite office of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office that serves victims of child abuse and sex crimes, as well as their families. The CAC was the creation of Prosecutor Andrew K. Ruotolo, Jr., who envisioned a place where children who survived unspeakable crimes could go to get help and justice, without being retraumatized by visits to busy, loud and often chaotic environments, found at police headquarters. Instead children would enter a warm home staffed by investigators and prosecutors specially trained to interact with these vulnerable survivors.
Under the leadership of the first Prosecutor Ruotolo, and with the support of the Union County Freeholders, a small home was purchased by the County in downtown Elizabeth and the original CAC opened on July 11, 1995 as a safe haven for the children of Union County. The original facility was named in memory of UCPO employee Eileen Chrenka, but was lovingly referred to by all who worked there simply as the “Little House.”
The need for additional resources and staffing meant that the Prosecutor’s Office quickly outgrew the Little House. In October 2012, after more than a decade of planning and several years of construction, having been championed and received financial support from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Union County Improvement Authority, the CAC moved to its current home located at 240 West Jersey Street in downtown Elizabeth. The structure consists of a three-story, 11,000-square-foot Victorian-era home built around the turn of the 20th century.
The Child Advocacy Center and its multi-disciplinary team of staffers, which includes professionals with the Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit, offer legal, investigative, therapeutic, medical, and child protective services, to children ranging in age from newborns to 17. The Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly known as DYFS) jointly investigate more than 500 cases of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, and maltreatment annually.
The Center houses approximately two dozen full-time staffers and utilizes an advanced, efficient “wraparound” service model that brings together all existing child abuse services from multiple locations to a single location, providing professional assistance to child abuse survivors such as interviews, intake, medical examination, and mental health intake evaluation and counseling.
Under acting Prosecutor Ruotolo’s leadership the CAC is expanding again for the first time in nearly a decade. Beginning in April of 2020, the CAC’s impact will extend to provide a safe haven to even more of Union County’s children – mainly all children who are the victims of sexual contact and/or sexual assault. This initial phase of the expansion will be done using existing resources and staffing. But the CAC will soon begin construction, through the utilization of $99,500 in grant funding awarded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. Thanks to the support of County and State government, the CAC will soon be able to provide a safe haven to even more of our community’s most vulnerable survivors.