When the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre opened its doors last fall, it did so with the ultimate goal of helping children and families on their path to healing from abuse.
However, the number of clients coming through their doors in downtown Red Deer has been shocking, according to CEO Mark Jones.
Since the first child interview on Dec. 14, there have been 60 more, as of March 21.
The centre has handled 90 total cases, resulting in 28 criminal charges. Sixty per cent of cases were related primarily to sexual abuse, 20 per cent to physical abuse and 20 per cent to neglect.
Jones says with a much larger centre on the way in the years to come, it is vital now to let people know their organization exists.
“We just recognize there’s a real need in central Alberta for this service. We continue every day to kind of grow it to be able to do the best we can for everybody,” he says.
“My hats are off to our service providers -- Alberta Health Services, Children's Services, the Justice Department, the RCMP -- those are the ones doing the front line work, and the things they’re doing and how they’ve worked together and come together as such a close-knit team is astounding.”
Cst. Bethany Simpson with Red Deer RCMP has been working with the centre for a month as part of the group that greets a child at the door, dressed in plain-clothes with her gun locked away in a safe.
Simpson and other staff then bring the child to a packed toy room in order to lighten the mood before the child goes into the interview room. All the while, there are family rooms - where some counselling takes place - and a kitchen, fully stocked by Save on Foods. At the end of the day, every child gets to leave with a quilt, hand-made and donated by community groups. That's when the agencies sit down and collaborate to find the correct path forward.
Though Simpson isn’t ‘chasing bad guys’ on the street -- which she says is what most kids tell her they think cops do -- her work with the child advocacy centre ultimately amounts to the same thing.
“It’s definitely positive for me that I’m able to be trained to interview these kids so that they can tell their story, because not all kids feel comfortable talking to all officers,” she says.
“At the end of the day, what I walk away with is that we brought the kids in here, and whether they’ve disclosed or not, at least they know there is someone safe and a neutral place they can come to and talk to people.”
There are about 50 RCMP officers in the province with the same training as Simpson. Two other municipal police members work with the centre in Red Deer.
In February, the CACAC and Red Deer College signed a memorandum of understanding for an $8 million facility to be built on RDC grounds. The vision not only includes more interview rooms and the capacity to help many more central Albertans, it will also become home to other agencies such as the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre.
If you or a family member requires the services of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, visit their Facebook page or call 587-876-7288.
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