Abused chil­dren need an Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre

Penticton Herald - - OPINION - JIM TAY­LOR

Imag­ine that you’re a child, let’s say 10 years old.

Now imag­ine that you’re be­ing abused. By some­one you trust. Or fear. Per­haps an older sib­ling. Per­haps an un­cle or aunt or your reg­u­lar babysit­ter. Even per­haps, to tie in with his­toric chil­dren’s tales, by a wicked step­par­ent.

Imag­ine what kind of courage it takes to speak out. To ac­cuse some­one that the rest of your fam­ily re­gards with re­spect.

Now imag­ine hav­ing to tell the story of your shame and hu­mil­i­a­tion over. And over. And over again.

First, prob­a­bly, in the in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment of the po­lice head­quar­ters, some­times in the back seat of a po­lice car, to an of­fi­cer you have never met be­fore.

Then to med­i­cal staff at the hospi­tal emer­gency ward, if they have to re­pair any phys­i­cal wounds.

And if there’s a pos­si­bil­ity of crim­i­nal charges, you may have to go to Kam­loops for a foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion. Driven there by your par­ents, or your rel­a­tives -- the courts don’t pro­vide trans­porta­tion. Imag­ine spend­ing two hours in the back seat think­ing about what lies ahead be­cause the fa­cil­i­ties for this exam don’t cur­rently ex­ist in Kelowna.

But none of those agen­cies can change the fam­ily sit­u­a­tion that made you a vic­tim. The pro­vin­cial Min­istry of Chil­dren and Fam­ily De­vel­op­ment can move you a safe place, to pro­tect you. So you’ll have to tell your story all over again, once more ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the trauma.

This is the way the sys­tem works, at present. You may have to re­live your trauma up to a dozen times. By then you’ve told your story so many times, to so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple, that you’re hav­ing trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing what re­ally hap­pened.

Un­skilled in­ter­view­ers can eas­ily plant sug­ges­tions while ask­ing well-in­ten­tioned ques­tions. In the in­fa­mous Martensville case in Saskatchewan in the 1990s, tales of sa­tanic cults and bar­baric rit­u­als re­sulted from over-zeal­ous ques­tion­ing by an un­der-qual­i­fied po­lice of­fi­cer.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

A pro­posed Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre for Kelowna could change all that, within a year.

In­stead of mul­ti­ple in­ter­views, the child would ide­ally face just one. Done by a spe­cially trained in­ter­viewer, but ob­served by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all the agen­cies in­volved. The in­ter­view would be recorded, avail­able as ev­i­dence should it be needed for a court case. Don’t blame the agen­cies for the night­mare de­scribed above. They’re do­ing their best in a dys­func­tional sys­tem that too of­ten treats vic­tims as “col­lat­eral dam­age,” to use a war eu­phemism. Work­ing on the front lines of child abuse is one of the most dif­fi­cult jobs on earth. The sys­tem it­self needs chang­ing. And that’s the goal of the Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre. To have all these agen­cies work­ing un­der one roof, where they can put these chil­dren at the cen­tre and dra­mat­i­cally im­prove out­comes.

The Kelowna Foun­da­tion is the um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion rais­ing $6 mil­lion for a Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre serv­ing the re­gion be­tween Lake Coun­try and Peach­land. RCMP, In­te­rior Health, and the Min­istry of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies all sup­port this im­por­tant ini­tia­tive.

The Cen­tre would house space for RCMP of­fi­cers spe­cial­iz­ing in child abuse cases; a spe­cial­ized med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion suite; and room for so­cial work­ers, med­i­cal staff, child ad­vo­cates and ther­a­pists. But in­stead of each group fo­cussing on its own pri­or­i­ties, there would be a sin­gle in­te­grated fo­cus -the wel­fare and heal­ing of the child.

The Cen­tre would also in­clude fa­cil­i­ties for train­ing so­cial work­ers, med­i­cal staff, and po­lice in gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from chil­dren, while help­ing them move be­yond their story of abuse.

Six mil­lion is, ad­mit­tedly, a lot of money. Four mil­lion is for the build­ing, sched­uled to start early 2019, com­pleted by sum­mer; $2 mil­lion would fund the first years of op­er­a­tion. But, in the long run, it would be a sav­ing. Sta­tis­tics say that one in three chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence some kind of abuse.

Chil­dren who have been abused are 30 per cent less likely to grad­u­ate from high school. Three times more likely to suf­fer from men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues; 26 times more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence home­less­ness as adults; and -- here’s the shocker -- 46 times more likely to per­pet­u­ate vi­o­lence in their own so­cial re­la­tion­ships as ado­les­cents.

The Cen­tre’s pro­mo­tion book­let makes the point: “We need a bet­ter model to sup­port not only the vic­tims but the com­mu­nity of in­di­vid­u­als linked to them: moth­ers and fa­thers, si­b­lings, grand­par­ents, teach­ers, and friends.”

About $1 mil­lion has been raised or com­mit­ted al­ready for the pro­posed Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre in Kelowna.

Your gift to the Kelowna Foun­da­tion can help it hap­pen.

Jim Tay­lor is an Okana­gan Cen­tre au­thor and free­lance jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at re­write@shaw.ca. This col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Satur­day in the Okana­gan Week­end.

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