Fighting for the kids
By Hank Beckman For Sun-Times Media September 17, 2013 4:38PM
Updated: September 17, 2013 8:08PM
In officially opening the Jeanine Nicarico Children’s Advocacy Center Tuesday, DuPage County found a measure of hope in an unspeakable tragedy.
Nicarico was a 10-year-old from Naperville who was abducted and killed in 1983 on a day she stayed home sick from school.
The case spurred reforms to the method and process of investigating and prosecuting crimes against children, county officials said.
To that end, the Jeanine Nicarico Children’s Advocacy Center is designed to provide a comprehensive response to allegations of child abuse and to help children who are the victims of crime. DuPage officials said the facility is truly needed, as child abuse cases are on the rise in the county.
‘Years of work’
“This is a wonderful thing,” Jeanine Nicarico’s mother Pat said Tuesday during the opening ceremonies for the new center. “We want to thank .... the entire community.”
Pat Nicarico’s husband, Tom, stood at her side during the event, joined by DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, former DuPage State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, current State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, and County Board members James Healy (R-Naperville) and Grant Eckhoff (R-Wheaton).
The 15,000-square-foot Children’s Advocacy Center at 422 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton was built for $5.6 million. Healy, along with former County Board member Deb Olson, took the lead to replace the old Children’s Center located right next door with a new, modern facility.
Healy said Tuesday’s grand opening was the result of an eight-year process, a “culmination of years and years of work.”
“This is fabulous,” Olson said. “It really permits us to see what was on paper come to life. It’s even better than I expected.”
‘There is a need’
The objective of the new center is to provide a facility on the DuPage County government campus for a comprehensive approach to dealing with allegations and the treatment of child abuse in DuPage.
Berlin said the need for such services is on the rise. He said there were 400 cases referred to the county’s previous Children’s Center in 2012, representing an 11 percent increase in cases over the year before.
He said the issue of child abuse crosses all lines.
“It has no boundaries,” Berlin said. “It’s in every economic sector of the county.”
Berlin said a special center to deal with child abuse is a necessity. He said child abuse is a crime that requires a special set of skills to deal with, and a level of sensitivity not necessary in some other cases.
“It requires extensive experience, but the experience absolutely makes a difference,” he said.
Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall echoed Berlin’s comments about the increase in child abuse incidents.
“What we’ve seen is similar to what Bob just said,” he said.
Cronin said that child abuse is a problem that DuPage County needs to face head-on.
“These crimes are among the most horrific and repulsive ... unfortunately there is a need (for this facility) in our community.”
He also wanted to make sure that Jeanine Nicarico is not forgotten.
“Jeanine’s death was a tragedy that we will live with in DuPage County forever,” he said.
But the opening of the new Children’s Advocacy Center provides a new chapter in that sad story, he said.
“We’ve turned that horrific event and experience into a positive today,” he said.