Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center opens its doors to the community
Open house showcases new medical exam room
April 21, 2017
Melissa McKain says children who have been abused must become a priority for the residents of Summit County.
"If we can't support our children when they need us the most, then we have failed them," said McKain, director of the county's Children's Justice Center.
The Summit County Children's Justice Center, located in the Sheldon Richins Building in Kimball Junction, hosted a community open house on Wednesday to showcase "how important the work we are doing at the Justice Center is."
"We wanted to show the public and community that there is healing after abuse," McKain said. "There is challenging work in this field, but we want people to know that if the kids and their families receive the resources they need, they can lead productive and healthy lives."
Summit County's Children's Justice Center is one of 22 centers across the state that provide child-focused programs in a safe setting for child abuse victims who are referred for services. It is a non-profit, government agency and funding is provided by Park City Municipal Corp, Summit County, the state and private donations.
"Before we had the Justice Center, victims would have to travel all over the county and keep retelling the story to therapists, family services, law enforcement and school officials," McKain said. "We bring all of those professionals to the child at the center and we record the interview. We then support them through the entire judicial process."
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McKain said she felt like the center "wasn't living up to its mission" because it lacked a medical exam room and on-location sexual assault nurse examiner, requiring victims to travel to Salt Lake City. She added, "It was challenging."
Last year, the Park City Women's Giving Fund awarded the Children's Justice Center a $30,000 grant to provide those services, in addition to other upgrades, such as sound-proofing the interview rooms. The new medical exam room was unveiled during the open house on Wednesday.
"This is the first time Summit County has been able to offer these exams," McKain said. "One thing I have learned in this process is that the medical exam is part of that healing process. We didn't know that before because this is new to our team."
Antoinette Laskey, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah and medical director of Safe and Healthy Families at Primary Children's Hospital, was recently named medical director of the Children's Justice Center to oversee the new service.
"Sometimes we focus on a specific part of an investigation, but the important thing to understand about child sexual abuse is that it is a team effort to figure out what happened to a child and then to make sure there is healing process," Laskey said. "The medical exam is important, not necessarily to document an injury, but in making sure the child understands that their body is OK so they can move forward with their healing process."
Since she became medical director of the Justice Center, Laskey said the "the generosity, acceptance and support of the Summit County community has been staggering."
"To have a community say our children are so important that we support that effort, it's really encouraging," Laskey said. "We see that continuously with the donations and the interest. In a community that doesn't believe bad things happen to children, they don't come forward when something does."
Susan Richer, a Park City resident and founder of the nonprofit organization Community for Children's Justice, said it was awe-inspiring to see the community show up for the event.
"It was amazing to see both the Children's Justice Center and the community come together," Richer said. "We are one and we will be more successful if we continue to work as one."
Last year, Richer established the Community for Children's Justice to help raise funds to build a new facility for the center.
"They are in an abysmal spot and they need their own facility and campus where they are in a place where they feel comfortable and they feel safe," Richer said. "We are just about ready to bring all that awareness to the community."
In 2012, the Children's Justice Center opened its doors with the help of several agencies, including the Summit County Sheriff's Office, Park City Police Department and Summit County Attorney's Office. More than 800 families have taken advantage of services. Last year, 84 child abuse interviews were conducted at the justice center.
For information about the Summit County Children's Justice Center, go to http://www.co.summit.ut.us/593/Childrens-Justice-Center.