Open house will showcase Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center
When Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center Director Melissa McKain recently told a friend how busy the center has been, the friend’s immediate reaction was, “That’s so sad.”
But, McKain said she doesn’t see it that way. She said once victims and their families leave the center, there is almost always a weight lifted off of their shoulders because of the information and education they are given.
“It empowers them and helps them feel like they are not alone in the process,” she said. “At least that’s how I view it.”
Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center is one of 22 centers across the state providing child-focused programs where qualified officials, such as law enforcement officers, can interview victims of abuse in a setting aimed at preventing further trauma to the victims. It is a non-profit, government agency and funding is provided by Park City Municipal , federal grants and private donations.
As a way to shed light on the services that are offered there, the Children’s Justice Center plans to host an open house and panel discussion to address the work that is being done to support child abuse victims and their families. The Children’s Justice Center, working under the County Attorney’s Office, opened in the county in 2012. Officials with the Justice Center, which operates in the basement of the Sheldon Richins Building, interview children and teenagers under 17 years old.
“I think a lot of people in the community either don’t know that we exist or don’t know what we do,” she said.
Attendees will be able to tour the Children’s Justice Center, including the medical exam rooms, and learn about the process child abuse victims go through. A panel of experts will also be on hand to discuss prevention, investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.
The event is scheduled at 5 p.m. Monday, April 23, at the Children’s Justice Center in the Sheldon Richins Building. It will include a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m., as well as a question-and-answer segment with the audience.
“We really wanted to bring awareness to the community about what we do inside of the building,” McKain said. “We take a collaborative approach to child abuse investigation and the reason for that is so that families can be best supported and kids don’t fall through the cracks.”
Last year, the Children’s Justice Center served more than 250 victims and their families. More than 80 interviews were conducted.
“It crosses all socio-economic boundaries,” McKain said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned since being in this field. The misconception is that it happens to other people’s families and it doesn’t happen in our community. But, it does.”
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, who will be one of the panelists, said the event is meant to coincide with Child Abuse and Prevention month, which is recognized in April. Other Children’s Justice Centers across the state hosted similar events to raise awareness about the services that are offered at their respective facilities.
Olson said the panelists will chronologically discuss the process abuse victims go through after a report is made, as well as prevention and awareness.
“As parents we can be protective and smart about our children’s safety, but no one is immune from having a tragedy like this befall them and their child,” she said. “When it does happen, it’s so devastating and people have a hard time seeing the future. They ask themselves, ‘Is my child ever going to heal? Are they ever going to feel whole? I think we want to raise community awareness that this does happen, and when it does there is a place you can come where hope is provided and where there is a team of professionals from a multitude of disciplines that can help you through the first steps of reporting and then healing and recovery.”
In addition to Olson, the panelists will be: Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez; Investigator Christina Sally; Jeremy Eaton with the Park City Police Department; Ted Walker, with the Division of Child and Family Services; and representatives from the Park City High School Teen Council and Community for Children’s Justice. Antoinette Laskey, medical director of the Children’s Justice Center, will also participate in the discussion.
A representative from the Community for Children’s Justice will discuss the nonprofit organization’s efforts to raise funds to build a new standalone facility for the center.
“We are lucky to have this facility, but it is operated out of the library and next to the DMV,” Olson said. “It is a great place, but it can be even better. There is going to be a major fundraising effort in the community over the next several months, and I think it is something that serves everyone in the community, even if you aren’t directly impacted with it. I’m very interested in getting a new facility completed during my term in office.”
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.