Summit County Children’s Justice Center panel to audience: Child abuse is a ‘community issue’
Visitors at the Summit County Children’s Justice Center are first greeted by shelves overflowing with blankets, books and stuffed animals. An inviting small blue couch flanks the shelves in the waiting area.
The room is teeming with people, overcrowding the small space that is typically reserved for the child victims of abuse and their families. But, on Monday, the Children’s Justice Center opened its doors to the public to showcase the space in the bottom of the Sheldon Richins Building in Kimball Junction.
As visitors walk throughout the center, they encounter small rooms where interviews are held or a medical exam is performed. Photographs of animals and hand-drawn pictures line the walls as if to reassure the victims that they are in a welcoming, safe space as they disclose their experiences to the authorities.
Eventually the group of nearly 50 makes its way upstairs for a panel discussion. The audience includes Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, Park City Council member Tim Henney, Summit County Council members Roger Armstrong and Chris Robinson, as well as members of the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
“This is a community issue,” said Christina Sally, investigator for the Children’s Justice Center. “It’s not just a family issue or a child victim’s issue.”
Sally, along with other panelists, walk the audience through the process a victim of child abuse endures. The panel discusses the initial report, interview, medical exam, trial and sentencing, and the aftermath. The discussion covers the statistics surrounding child abuse and how to identify it.
The other panelists are: Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez; Jeremy Eaton, with the Park City Police Department; Ted Walker, with the Division of Child and Family Services; representatives from the Park City High School Teen Council; Melissa McKain, director of the Justice Center; Becca Ross, president of the Community for Children’s Justice; and Antoinette Laskey, medical director of the Children’s Justice Center.
“This is an uncomfortable topic we are discussing,” Martinez said. “And when we get that first initial call, it is probably one of the most difficult calls we get.”
Monday’s open house was intended to highlight the work that is being done at the Justice Center to prevent further trauma to victims of abuse. Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center is one of 26 centers across the state providing child-focused programs. It is a nonprofit, government agency and is funded by Park City Municipal, federal grants and private donations.
The Children’s Justice Center works under the auspices of the County Attorney’s Office. It opened in 2012 and often serves victims outside of Summit County, including victims in Wyoming.
Officials with the Justice Center interview children and teenagers under 18 years old. The majority of the victims who are served are between the ages of 7 and 13. More than 100 cases are expected to be heard in 2018.
“My job is about listening to these children and hearing what they have to say,” Laskey said. “There is hope for these children.”
The panelists also seize the opportunity to highlight the effort that the Community for Children’s Justice has undertaken to secure a separate standalone facility for the Children’s Justice Center somewhere in the county.
“Summit County’s Justice Center is the only one in the state that doesn’t have its own home,” Ross said. “This is a very real problem here whether people want to believe it or not, and we owe it to ourselves and the community to come up with the best center in the state.”
Ross said the Community for Children’s Justice is in the process of launching a capital campaign to kickstart fundraising efforts. She said the organization is currently exploring land parcels throughout the county to serve as a future site for a facility.
After the discussion and most of the audience had left, Laskey and McKain said they were inspired by the community’s interest.
“That was impressive,” Laskey said. “To have a community that cares about those problems is impressive. It’s a beautiful spring day. The sun is out. It is warm and you filled the room to capacity with people that care. Honestly, you can have more hope for children when the community surrounding those children care enough to listen, believe and support.”
McKain said they are more energized as a team now.
“We were just talking about: What are we going to do next?” she said. “How do you build off of this wonderful evening?”
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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.