In its first four weeks of operation, the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre reviewed 35 possible child abuse cases, which resulted in 29 forensic interviews with children and youth mostly from Red Deer.
Modelled after the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, the centre pulls together staff from agencies like RCMP, family services, mental health, addictions programs, and the Crown prosecutor’s office into one location to discuss cases to avoid duplication, service gaps, and reduce the number of times children have to be interviewed.
“We have brought 35 cases to the table to have them triaged to come up with a plan to see what we need to do,” said the centre’s CEO Mark Jones Wednesday.
He said cases don’t necessarily lead to full-scale investigations or charges of sexual or physical abuse, or neglect.
“Some of them lead to lots of family counselling and help and support for not only the victim but the family.”
He said cases have involved children three to 18 years old, with about 60 per cent being girls. It could involve recent or historical abuse because it depends on when the child feels safe enough to say something.
In June 2016, a Red Deer coalition received $150,000 to assess the needs of the region and develop an operational plan for a local advocacy centre. The funding was part of $1.7 million to support existing child advocacy centres in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, as well as emerging centres in Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Lloydminster and Red Deer.
He said the centres are now working with the province to come up with a funding framework.
Offices at the downtown Bunn Building, at 4820 Gaetz Ave., were renovated this fall to temporarily house the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre which opened Nov. 29. It includes interview and play therapy rooms.
“Our goal is to try and make (children) as comfortable as possible while they’re here,” Jones said.
He recalled how one girl thanked staff for removing a huge weight from her shoulders.
“Every child that comes through our doors, we give them a quilt. She wrapped that quilt around her and never took it off. She walked out the door with it wrapped around her arms.”