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New centre to advocate for abused children

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A new victims' centre opened downtown Wednesday will try to minimize trauma for kids hurt by violence as they recount their stories.

The Winnipeg Children’s Advocacy Centre (CAC) is set to help about 40 children and teens in its first year, by creating a hub where police officers and social service workers will work.

CAC executive director Cheryl Martinez said the centre at 225 Portage Avenue is to help children and teenagers up to 17-years-old.

It’s designed to put children and their families at ease during a difficult process, which is why it has features like plush rugs, quilts on the walls and inspirational Dr. Seuss quotes on bathroom walls.

"The purpose of the centre is to be a one-stop shop for child victims and their families, to provide a wraparound service approach," said Martinez, who’s worked in child protection for 28 years.

She said that means one interview of a child, versus multiple interviews by police and then by social services workers.

Telling a story multiple times can traumatize children, she said.

"We have the capacity for the police investigators to monitor and to transcribe the interview, as well as for the child protection investigators to monitor the interview as well, so that their mandates are met with respect to the information required both for a child protection investigation, and for a criminal investigation," she said.

The centre’s core staff will be Martinez and an executive assistant, as well as two forensic interviewers who will speak to kids to get statements from them.

Those interviews are recorded in a room in the centre that has a plush rug, comfortable couch and soft lighting to create a calming space.

There’s also hidden cameras and microphones within the interview room, and police and social service workers in nearby areas can see and listen to what happens inside the room.

The lobby of the centre was crammed with politicians Monday, including federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, provincial Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard, and provincial Justice Minister Andrew Swan, to mark the centre’s opening. The centre will operate on more than $500,000 in federal and provincial funding each year, said Martinez.

"What this centre is going to do for children who have faced the horror and the trauma of abuse is going to be not only critical in their own recovery in their own lives, but we know centres like this in other jurisdictions, they also help us protect kids because they help us put abusers in jail.

They help us have successful prosecutions because there’s better collection of evidence," said Howard.

"And even when that doesn’t happen, even where there isn’t a successful prosecution, we know that children and their families who access a child advocacy centre report that they feel more supported, and that child can start on their healing journey a lot sooner, and a lot more smoothly."

People don’t directly refer themselves to the centre, but will be sent there by police, medical officials or Child and Family Services.

Inspector Gord Perrier of the Winnipeg Police Service said the CAC will assist about 40 youths who are victims of sexual abuse in its first year.

That will expand to about 80 victims of sexual and physical abuse in its second year, and about 120 victims in its third year.

Perrier said the centre is also intended to help kids who witness acts of violence, like a child who witnesses a homicide within their home.

The centre will be looking for toy donations, as a room in the centre has closets filled with toys for kids to take.

A comfy family room has TV and Internet access for relatives of a child victim to wait in while the child is interviewed.


Updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 5:37 PM CST: full writethru

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