Local Children’s Justice Center to open
December 27, 2011
The Summit County Attorney’s office will unveil the county’s new local Children’s Justice Center on January 2 where children who have been abused can be interviewed in a setting that feels more like grandma’s house and less like a courtroom.
The Summit County Children’s Justice Center is located in the bottom floor of the Sheldon Richins Building in Kimball Junction. The center was previously located in Heber as part of a joint program with Wasatch County. Summit County Investigator Christina Sally said that by not having the center located in the area, some families were unable to access it due to time and travel constraints.
"About four children a month from Summit County went to the Children’s Justice Center, but now that it is located locally we are expecting that number to rise," said Sally. "Previously, children who disclosed abuse at school were interviewed at the school. But now they will also be taken to the center. As the community grows, it is our responsibility to the kids to have these resources conveniently located."
According to Sally, the center will have two age-appropriate rooms, one for children under 13 years old and one for children 13-17 years old.
"We have Dr. Seuss posters and fun yellow paint. The kids can sit in comfy chairs and feel at home, not scared like they might be in a normal interview room," she said.
The center also allows children to only be interviewed once, reducing further trauma, according to Sally. A trained forensic interviewer conducts the interview with the child while a team of law enforcement, prosecutors, mental health providers and family services representatives observe from behind a one-way mirror.
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Summit County Attorney David Brickey said the children’s center will also be equipped with cameras, bought through state grant money, allowing the children to avoid testifying multiple times in preliminary hearings. The interviewer is trained to communicate with young children and not ask leading questions so that the children’s answers can be used in court.
"Kids don’t feel intimidated in the center," Brickey said. "Multiple interviews and hearings can be a terrifying experience for the kids. Any child that has been abused, witnessed abuse or a crime or mentally disabled adults can use the center."
The center was built at no additional cost to Summit County taxpayers, according to Sally. Summit County and Park City will transfer the funds they used to give to the program in Wasatch County, about $17,000 a year, to the Summit County center. The building was acquired without any overhead since it is owned by Summit County and the space was available. Additional funds will be provided by the state based on how many children the center serves each month.
Brickey said he would like to see the center expand one day and be located in its own building with a family services office, but first the county is waiting to see how successful the center is.
"We want to prove to the community that this center is sustainable and beneficial," he said. "Then in the next couple of years, once we have established a good track record and when the economy improves, we can explore the possibility of developing our own building."
To decorate the new center and create a logo, Sally held an art contest with the Summit County High School art classes. Natalie Peters, an eleventh-grader at Park City High School, won the contest with her drawing of a puzzle and the slogan, ‘Putting the pieces back together." The artwork will be featured on the center’s letterhead and displayed in the building.
Peters said it was ‘really cool’ to be able to contribute to the center.
"The justice center is going to be helping kids put their lives back together, so I thought it was an appropriate picture," Peters said. "I do a lot of puzzles in my spare time and that is where I got the idea. Some of the puzzle pieces in the picture are missing, as if these kids’ lives are incomplete."