One in every 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse by their 18th birthday, according to the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center. Furthermore, they claim that 93% of victims know their offender before the incident. The Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC) is a nonprofit organization that aims to develop a coordinated response to these child sexual abuse investigations. The idea for the DCAC first came to life in November of 1996 when a task force was created in Bismarck to identify how to best serve and support children who have been sexually abused. By February of 1997, the DCAC was established and their first child in Bismarck was served.
Since their launch in Bismarck, they have served all North Dakota counties, all five of the state’s Native American reservations, as well as parts of northern South Dakota and Eastern Montana. In 2021, 940 people were helped across 53% of the state, according to the DCAC 2021 Annual Report. Furthermore, they provided 357 forensic interviews, 141 medical evaluations and 1,831 mental health sessions. Paula Condol, executive director of the DCAC, joined to discuss the organization’s mission, what many people might not know and what actions readers can take to make a difference.
“It’s always been at the heart of our mission that we don’t add to the stress and trauma that the family is already facing. After discovering that you have a child who has been abused, the last thing that family needs is a large bill coming their way for the services that were provided to them,”– Paula Condol
How Does a CAC Work?
A CAC, or Children’s Advocacy Center, coordinates the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases by utilizing multidisciplinary teams of professionals. By coordinating the response of agencies like law enforcement, child protective services, prosecutors’ offices, advocates, mental health and medical professionals, CACs all across the country help ensure that when a child discloses abuse, they are not re-victimized by the systems designed to protect them. CACs help coordinate care and investigation from first report to conviction and beyond, while keeping the child at the center of everything the team does.
The Need for an Advocacy Center
According to the National Sex Offender Registry, North Dakota is equivalent to the same per capita sex offender registry as in California, with 2,191 currently on the sex offender registry in North Dakota.
Did You Know?
Over 25 years of operation, the DCAC has served nearly 700 children across North Dakota.
How did the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center begin?
The DCAC first began with a group of eight people, according to Condol. They noticed that much could be done to improve the aftermath information collection process. With few resources available for children in need, the group targeted the primary issues by seeking out people that would be of assistance to their mission.
“Ranging from people within the Attorney General’s office, Sanford Health, Department of Human Services, Social Services, law enforcement, prosecutors and more, it really took a village to make sure that it was an effective plan that would better the needs of these children,” Condol said. “One of the biggest challenges that these children faced was that, on average, they had to tell their story 15 different times throughout the process to different people. That included parents, school teachers, law enforcement, social workers and so on. Now, we bring the necessary parties together, in a separate room, so that the children only have to share their story one time to one person, and so that the child doesn’t face being traumatized any further.”
This is just one of the many minor changes the DCAC has made that will make a major difference in the child’s ability to recover and heal. At the beginning, they started out solely serving children that faced sexual abuse. Now, the DCAC serves all abused, traumatized or neglected children, including those who have witnessed domestic violence, or even murders, at a young age.
As the nonprofit has continued to receive backing and support from other organizations and donors over the years, the DCAC has blossomed into a more expansive service, with a satellite location in Dickinson, ND, as well as an outreach center in Watford City, ND. These additional locations allow families closer access to help, rather than having every victim travel across the state to the original Bismarck location. Moving forward, the center hopes to ensure that every child is within driving distance to a safe and supportive center for help.
What You May Not Know About The DCAC
While many nonprofit organizations aim to serve the community, few orient themselves toward the children as much as the DCAC does. First and foremost, they provide all of their services free-of-charge to families, for as long as they need them.
“Families can come here to get medical exams, counseling services or have their child’s statement taken. We also provide more tangible services such as getting them gas cards or taxi vouchers to come to services. Whatever that family may need, we try to find any ways that we can meet their needs free-of-charge,” Condol said.
Furthermore, people oftentimes assume that the DCAC is funded by the government, rather than acting as a nonprofit organization.
“I’ve talked to people before that have just assumed we’re government-funded because we work with law enforcement, but that’s not the case. We’re open to any and all donations and contributions, as it takes a village to make a significant change in the lives of these wonderful children,” Condol said.
How Can I Get Involved?
“One of the things about our organization that people are most surprised about is that enough abuse occurs in our community to need a center like this. For many, it’s not something that’s part of their world and something they don’t want to hear about,” Condol said.
While it’s a tough subject to discuss, the matter is pressing and needs to be addressed and attended to, for the children’s safety.
The DCAC is always lookingz for volunteers at their events. Upcoming events include various golf tournaments, appreciation picnics, as well as Kid’s Days at the Bismarck Library. Contact the DCAC at the information below to learn details regarding upcoming events.
“Since the DCAC is a nonprofit, they’re unable to have full-time cleaning staff. Volunteers will oftentimes come in and help clean or help organize our area.
Around holidays, we’ll often redecorate for the seasons to brighten the children’s days, so volunteering some of your time to help get kids in the holiday spirit makes the world to them,” Condol said
The DCAC’s observation room is where the team is able to observe the forensic interview as the child shares their experiences with the interviewer. By reducing the number of times a child has to tell their story, CAC’s help ensure that when a child is not re-victimized by the systems designed to protect them.
Donate to Their Wish List!
The DCAC serves a 35-county area, with families often making a multiple-hour drive with hungry and thirsty children by their time of arrival. They always try to have juice boxes, bottles of water, peanutfree snacks and more available for them on-hand. They also aim to have bathroom and hygienic products available for the children at all times.
Furthermore, they’re always in need of copier paper and art supplies for their art therapy for the children. Lastly, the organization is always in need of more items for their “Closet of Caring” for the children.
As with most nonprofit organizations, one of the most direct ways to get involved is by making monetary donations. As the DCAC relies heavily on funding and donations, a donor’s contributions will be placed towards keeping forensic interviewers on their payroll, supplies on their wish list, and more to help the child heal and prevent the families from further stress.
While the DCAC may be fighting an uphill battle, it’s one that many can easily get behind. Helping the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center translates to helping support and uplift a younger generation in need of assistance..
The DCAC’s Closet of Caring
The “Closet of Caring” first began as a closet strictly dedicated to children that needed new clothing. Today, it has expanded into a wide
ranging space that contains not only clothes, but toys, shoes and much more for the children!
Did You Know?
According to the DCAC 2021 Annual.
Report, they are funded by the following:
State Grants – 33%
Federal Grants – 33%
Third-Party Payers – 18%
Foundations – 9%
Community Support – 7%