NEW DIGS - Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, poses in the organization’s new location in the Bunn Building downtown. Michelle Falk/Red Deer Express TAKING A CALL - CEO of the Child Advocacy Centre Mark Jones, in the new office space, which opened Dec. 1st. Michelle Falk/Red Deer Express

Child advocacy group settles into new location

The Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre opened its doors in Red Deer Dec 1st.

The Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, now located on the second floor of the Bunn Building at 4820 Gaetz Ave., will be a hub for children who have suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect.

“It’s a tough topic but it’s a topic that we need to be able to have people be willing to talk about and to bring it to the forefront,” said Mark Jones, CEO of the Centre.

“If you want to make a change in the world, sometimes you have to be the change.”

The idea behind the centre, modelled after the Sheldon Kennedy Centre in Calgary, is to create an integrated approach to working with kids who have suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or neglect.

Generally if a child discloses abuse to a teacher at school, the school authorities would get involved and then bring in Children’s Services and the RCMP, who would then possibly bring them to the police station and depending on the significance of what occurred bring in Alberta Health Services.

But what happens is the child has to tell their story again to each of these social services, reliving the trauma sometimes as many as seven times, Jones explained.

The idea behind centres like this is that children not be re-traumatized over and over again, by the abuse they have experienced by having to relive the experience it each time they are transferred to another service and have to tell them what happened.

Meanwhile, the new Centre in Red Deer will be the 26th of its kind across Canada.

The first Child Advocacy Centre (CAC) was launched in the U.S. in 1985.

The model has become intentionally recognized as a cost effective way speed up prosecutions.

Statistics from the Sheldon Kennedy Centre in Calgary show and increase of 24% guilty pleas from perpetrators to a little over 60% now, said Jones.

The centres are also being recognized as better allocation of resources and as a more effective way to support children and youth who have experienced trauma.

The new facility has a number of unique features.

There is a shared work space for the service delivery team which includes three to four part-time RCMP, Children’s Services, and one person from the AHS Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and another from AHS mental health and addictions.

There will also be a room for children to play with toys and get comfortable in the space, as well as a flex room that can be used for parents to wait in or for counselling sessions.

Jones is most excited about the Centre’s interview room.

This won’t be like a police interrogation room, he said pointing out that the lighting can even be adjusted to reduce kids’ anxiety. The room will have nice pictures on the walls and comfortable furniture as well as a table for kids to draw at.

In the future, they plan to have a service dog there as well.

The room is equipped with a subtly-placed microphone and cameras so that anything that is disclosed in an interview can be recorded for future reference or in court, limiting the the number of times a child has to repeat what happened.

“The Sheldon Kennedy stats are, that 92 per cent of kids that do the forensic interview only have to do it one time and they have everything they need even to use in a court,” said Jones.

On the other side of the wall is a room where RCMP and Children’s Services can monitor the interview to make sure they get the information they need.

Interviews are taped and a scribe will type them out.

“We’re just in our infancy—it was something that just started out of a need in the community,” Jones said.

The Central Alberta Children’s Advocacy Centre began as a coalition in 2015.

“We will be here for two years and then our plan is to build a permanent building that will be shared with the Central Alberta Support Centre.

“The long term goal is to have completely wrap-around services,” he said.

Their location in the Bunn Building is a temporary one.

The CACAC plans to build a 10,000 sq. ft. building that they will share with the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Jones said details about this project will be announced in February.

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