Amid a week of well-wishes and celebratory farewell fanfare, Billie Larkin is retiring as Executive Director of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois on March 31. Larkin has led CACI, the sister organization to the Indiana Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance, for over ten years.
Larkin started 22 years ago as CAC Director of a co-located, 3-county CAC in McLean County, near Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. After taking the Executive Director’s seat for CACI, Larkin went to work on a variety of initiatives. “The first CAC in Illinois started in 1989. When I took over in 2007, we had 25 accredited CACs,” she recalls. In 10 years, Larkin would help open more than 1 CAC a year, bringing Illinois’ total to 39 accredited Centers. 96 of Illinois’ 102 counties are served by an accredited CAC. The remaining six are being actively developed.
Larkin also set out to increase the size and scope of CACI’s staff and budget. “When I started we had three staff members, including myself. Today we have eight. It’s been a long, hard process,” she says. Larkin recalls her early work with Marcia Milliken, who now leads the Minnesota Children’s Alliance. “She was one of my early staff members and a real treasure,” she says.
Larkin netted A $7.1 million Victims of Crime Act grant during her tenure. That money has helped shore up gaps in Illinois’ budget woes.
“The Chapters really don’t get the money and the staff they need to do what they should be doing,” adds Larkin. “We have fewer sources of revenue than CACs. We can’t hold fundraisers like a CAC because we don’t see victims directly. All our work is in policy, training, advisory, and legislative matters. Funders don’t always like to fund those things,” she says.
Illinois’ CACs are funded through the Department of Children and Family Services, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Department of Human Services. But that money has become “a slow drip out of the faucet” as Illinois legislators start, stop, fail, and try again to keep budgets moving.
“We lament as funding goes, and we try to access our rainy-day funds. But once that’s gone, what’s next?” Larkin asks. “This is the part of the job I’m not going to miss. CACI has tried to put as much spin, positive energy, and training as possible to take burdens off of CACs. We’re dealing with what’s we’re dealt,” she says. “It’s not uncommon we get a check for some quarter six months after the quarter is completed,” she adds.
“Certainly, I’ll miss the staff, my Board, and my CAC Directors. I’ll probably miss some of the fights on legislation and funding, too,” says Larkin. “When you think about it, there are only 49 other people with this same job,” she adds. “I don’t remember when I met Jan Lutz [Executive Director of the Indiana Chapter] — her laugh is pretty identifiable in a meeting. But over the years we’ve shared a lot of information and talked back and forth as friends and colleagues. When you think of the uniqueness of each state, it’s hard to find people you feel close with and can mentor with,” says Larkin.
“Foremost, I’m looking forward to going to bed at night and not worrying about how I’m going to pay the staff, or which bill I have to skip,” says Larkin with a chuckle. “Two, I’m looking forward to more time with my family.” Larkin’s two children — one in Colorado and one in Chicago — have two grandkids each. Larkin and her husband are considering a move to Doer County, Wisconsin after he retires in a few years.
“This is the greatest job in the world. I’ve felt that way all the way through. Like I was the luckiest person in the world to match my skill set to this opportunity. I look back with great feelings. We’ve done a really good job in Illinois of learning how to deal with the impossible,” she says.
Larkin’s last day as Director of CACI is March 31, 2018.
A note from Indiana Chapter Director Jan Lutz: “Billie is a colleague, mentor, partner in crime, and dear friend. We’ve worked together in neighboring states, as site reviewers with the NCA, and have spoken to each other routinely over the last decade. I wish her well in her retirement.”