Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New centre to strengthen services for abused kids

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The province is set to roll out a new centre dedicated to working with children who've been abused or sexually assaulted.

Gord Mackintosh, the province's minister of family services, said the centre will be for newborns to 17-year-olds who suffer child sexual abuse or serious physical abuse, and is aiming to open in downtown Winnipeg by this summer. The centre is targeting to work with up to 100 child-abuse victims in its first year, he said.

"It's a very important strengthening of services for abused children that's on the way," said Mackintosh, who called the development of the centre "a labour of love for a lot of people."

The centre will try to create an inviting and comforting environment for children, said Mackintosh, and will co-ordinate services for kids who've gone through traumatic events.

"We're trying to reduce, significantly reduce, the number of interviews and meetings that a child and the non-offending caregivers have to attend," he said.

"There has been some evidence now from centres elsewhere that it enhances... the likelihood of conviction of predators (and) strengthens evidence.

The centre will ensure interviews are done according to the highest standards by highly skilled forensic personnel who can keep the number of subsequent interviews to a minimum.

The centre has nine partners who will be involved, said Mackintosh, including the Winnipeg Police Service. "The target is to have it open by summer, unless there are unforeseen issues with renovations," said Mackintosh.

Mackintosh said the province has looked at similar agencies in other jurisdictions for direction, such as the Zebra Child Protection Centre in Edmonton.

The Zebra centre, which calls itself the "first centre of its kind in Canada," has police officers, social workers, volunteers and Crown prosecutors, who work under the same roof, meet child victims when they arrive.

A centre like that in Winnipeg could be helpful, said a mother who's had to endure such trauma.

She had to accompany her six-year-old daughter to the hospital and Public Safety Building after a stranger kidnapped and raped the girl last spring. The little girl's mother said after she found her daughter and called police, the two had to go to a hospital emergency room, where the girl was examined by nurses for about six hours.

The two then had to head directly to the Public Safety Building, where they were separated and interviewed by investigators.

"They wanted to get as much information as they could from her before she forgets," said the mother, who said her interview took place in a room "like where you go interview a prisoner."

"It felt scary, it really did," she said. To this day, the victim's mother said the girl has never discussed the attack with anyone except police. Neither attend counselling.

"I think she feels embarrassed," said her mother.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2011 B3

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