25 years ago teams across Indiana set out to reform how every community responds to child abuse

Carolyn Hahn Kremer remembers the initial reaction among Indiana’s earliest child advocacy centers and teams when asked to form a state Chapter around 1997: “A state Chapter? Why do we need that? We’ve already got the National Children’s Alliance, the Midwest Regional, and now we need another?” 

Hahn Kremer is the Executive Director of The CASIE Center in South Bend and among several pioneers of Indiana’s CAC movement. “When we started, this was a project driven by a lot of partners” recalls Hahn Kremer. “When Jane Braun at Midwest Regional asked if we could go meet in Chicago to talk about bringing key people together to set up individual state Chapters in the Midwest, we wondered why we needed another organization.” 

Indiana only had a few counties working with the CAC model in the early 90s. Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties had operating Centers, and Marion County was well underway with early models of their services. The Midwest Regional CAC, headquartered in Minnesota, was a strong advocate for CACs, as well as the National Children’s Alliance in Washington. “We were in Midwest Regional and loved it,” says Hahn Kremer. 

She adds, “But when we went looking around to see what other states were doing, we noticed the states with state-level Chapters were doing better than those that didn’t. They were organized, and the CACs in those states followed all the same laws. They knew their laws, and more centers were reaching higher standards [of services].”

Teams from around Indiana quickly saw the benefits. “When we started meeting as a group, other people around the state came together interested in starting their own CAC,” she says. I will honestly say, there’s never been a group I’ve been associated with where meeting attendance grew, and people kept coming back—and bringing people with them.”

“Everything was so new,” says Hahn Kremer. Getting nonprofit status, applying for grants, community building, how to start a medical or mental health service, and just managing payroll and HR matters cropped up at every meeting. “Every time we met, we all learned more; that was the key piece. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

It was also during these early meetings that bylaws and leadership were debated. “I distinctly remember having a meeting about who would be officers, and I chose to be treasurer,” says Hahn Kremer, a position she has held every year for the last quarter-century. 

The second matter was more aggressive: “We asked ourselves, ‘What is our primary purpose?’ and we all agreed, ‘We don’t even know what a great investigation looks like.’,” says Hahn Kremer.

During the initial quarterly meetings and as more Indiana DCS caseworkers, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and others came together, the goal of establishing a clear, consistent, and ideal outcome after a crime against a child became the benchmark for everyone. 

“We came up with a forensic interviewing protocol, we started learning and teaching Finding Words protocols, and we set an early standard for forensic interviewing to effect change throughout Indiana,” she says, noting that Indiana became the second state in the nation to begin training everyone in Finding Words protocols.

Early in these train-the-trainer-style courses with Finding Words leaders, they asked, “How many counties do you think we’ll reach?” Hahn Kremer recalls an easy answer: “Well, all of them! If we set a state model, we need to train teams from every county.” Today, all but one of Indiana’s 92 counties have been trained in the latest evidence-based protocols.

Three years after the Chapter’s formal founding in 1994, leaders sought a Director to coordinate, lead, and grow the Chapter’s benefits for members. As other states have grown, the pool of resources from regional and national organizations has shrunk, requiring states to expand the breadth and depth of their services.

Fresh off a move back to Indiana, Jan Lutz was quickly recommended for the job. At the time, coverage was still sparse in many parts of Indiana. Leaders decided a CAC within a 45-minute drive of every child in need was a worthy and achievable goal that has largely been met.

Susie’s Place Executive Director Emily Perry was the first CAC to grow from idea to opening with the Chapter’s assistance. “Back in 2005 and 2006 when I first came to the Chapter table and was trying to educate myself on the model and who the key stakeholders were, Jan sat down with me and gave me this 10,000-foot view of CACs at that time. But she also provided this clear, practical, step-by-step plan for me to follow to accomplish our goal,” says Perry. 

CACs need community assessments, needs assessment reports, funding stream evaluations, and a series of agreements before they even establish their 501(c)3 status with the IRS. “Jan and Rita Johnson [Farrel] helped host a community forum with me and held my hand through that entire process,” says Perry. Without that support, guidance, coaching, mentoring, and technical assistance from the Chapter in those early years, we would not be in our current position where we’ve served 16,000 children.”

To Lutz—who is and remains the Chapter’s first and only Director—the next great challenge after expanding CAC coverage was figuring out how to support individual CAC directors and staff. “Even as recently as six years ago, we had a bunch of new directors asking, ‘What is the purpose of the Chapter?’” says Lutz. After most of the state was covered by a CAC and the initial groundwork was built, the Chapter established a new purpose statement: “The Indiana Chapter will add value to the CACs as they meet their missions.”

“Even today, some CACs may not realize how much the Chapter does and what the responsibility is nationally because we have great accountability to NCA. We’re expected to sit on committees and help local staff lead their organizations,” says Lutz. “There’s mentoring, training, accreditation, and the responsibility to our partners and building those relationships,” she adds. 

New accreditation standards and the recent passage of HEA 1123, which clarifies the role of CACs and the Chapter in state law, have only increased the need and demand for the Chapter.

“The Chapter supported Susie’s Place by simultaneously taking all three of our centers through national accreditation in 2021, says Perry. “Jan single-handedly prepared us for that and took us through it. Thinking back to that when this was a one-county conversation, and now she’s guiding us through three national accreditations while we’re serving 40+ counties annually is a big deal!” 

“What the Chapter has achieved in Indiana that other states have struggled with is creating a network that’s not competitive but collaborative. We have a support network in Indiana that works in children’s best interests and supports every CAC. Not every state chapter functions that way, and that’s been Jan’s vision since the beginning,” says Perry.

“We can say now that every county in the state has access to vital CAC services if and when they need them,” says Lutz. There are still gaps and pockets that need to be addressed, but we’re in a much better position than 25 years ago.”

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