Sheldon Kennedy is lending his personal experience, passion and star power to an effort to prevent more youth suicides in Red Deer.
The former NHL player spoke on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday of the need for a more effective system in Central Alberta for helping troubled children and teenagers.
“We’re in the business of child protection, so we had better be doing the best we can,” said Kennedy, who was invited by a group that wants to spearhead a new child advocacy centre.
In June, Alberta Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir announced $150,000 of seed money will be put towards establishing a Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre in Red Deer. The project is still in the planning stages.
With studies showing that one in three Canadians experience some type of child abuse, and with victims known to be four times as likely to report self-harm and suicidal thoughts, community leaders are motivated to seek a better solution.
Mayor Tara Veer said these residents are disturbed by the number of youth suicides in the city, “and had the desire to say, ‘Enough is enough. We need a better community response to protect kids and youths.’”
The proposed local centre will be based on a leading model used by the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary. It’s effective because it wraps multiple resources — RCMP, Alberta Child and Family Services, mental health and addictions programs, and the Crown prosecutor’s office — into one integrated approach, avoiding unnecessary duplication or gaps in service.
“We have a more efficient system because we understand childhood trauma… (and the importance of) making the invisible visible,” said Kennedy. The former professional hockey player has become a child-issues spokesman, activist and author since revealing he was molested by his junior league hockey coach.
Kennedy, who in-line skated across Canada to raise awareness of child abuse, noted mental health problems, addictions, a high school drop-out rate, crime and homelessness are all byproducts of childhood adversity. Fallout from abuse, he added, “may be the No. 1 killer of kids.”
He commended Red Deer citizens for wanting to do a better job of helping troubled local youths by changing the status quo.
Many places where children go for help “re-victimize the victim” by asking traumatized kids to repeat their story of abuse to police, psychiatrists, counsellors and prosecutors, said Kennedy. At his centre, the child just has to tell the story once. It’s taped and then shared with police and other agencies.
Hard-to-categorize problems that are often missed by conventional treatment programs are also addressed at the Calgary facility. For example, Kennedy said abused children are treated for showing inappropriate sexualized behavior. “If an 11-year-old is acting out with a one-year-old, what do you do with that?”
The centre identifies and treats this behaviour to ensure these children don’t go on to become abusers, he said.
Kennedy added that most abuse, by far, is done by people known to the victims.
Mark Jones, a former school principal, is co-chairing the steering committee for a Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre with home-builder Terry Loewen. Jones knows many students who sought help — but found available assistance lacking.
In this Internet age of online child luring and pornography, Jones feels the advocacy centre is more needed than ever. Instead of “rebuilding the wheel,” the new centre will pull existing programs under one umbrella, getting health and justice professionals communicating and co-operating to help children.
Whether existing space is renovated for the new centre, or a new structure needs to be built, is still under discussion. More will be revealed at a Thursday, Sept. 15, screening of Kennedy’s documentary film, Swift Current, at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
For more information about the 7 p.m. screening and availability of limited seating, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.