Abused children need an Advocacy Centre
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears every Saturday in the Okanagan Weekend.