‘The need is there always.’ Children’s Justice Center has a new home.
Officials hope it will comfort families experiencing trauma
The door to a handsome home in Highland Estates swung open last week and an 18-month-old black lab named Cali couldn’t wait to greet the newcomers while the smell of baking wafted from somewhere inside.
A stocky former cop soon emerged from the kitchen wearing an apron and holding a tray of muffins, the director offering a welcome to the Solomon Children’s Justice Center of Summit County.
The Children’s Justice Center is the place where children who have suffered abuse are taken to tell their stories to law enforcement personnel, the first step in seeking justice against the perpetrators.
The facility is in a former private home just off of the Silver Summit exit of U.S. 40, tucked away down a driveway. Officials hope to make it a bastion of safety and calm amid what is often a storm of shame, guilt and confusion.
That was a challenge in the organization’s previous location, which was next to the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Sheldon Richins Building.
The spacious, 6,000-square-foot home is designed to offer comfort to wounded families, with enough space for privacy and the support functions for its mission surreptitiously placed throughout.
It’s the result of a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign from Summit County community members and governments. The home is owned by a nonprofit group that supports the center, and the nonprofit’s executive director Harry Kirschner said they’ve raised enough money to purchase the home and fund an endowment for future maintenance expenses.
The Friends of the Children’s Justice Center completed extensive renovations, including installing an elevator and widening all the doors.
The center is full of natural light, clean walls and inviting spaces. It still looks like a home, with sitting rooms, a kitchen, a basement and bedrooms upstairs.
But now, those bedrooms are used to interview victims of childhood trauma, with cameras and audio recording equipment tucked away to record the sessions.
Downstairs, next to a sitting room with a large inviting couch, shafts of sunlight and a bookcase chock-full of toys, there’s a room behind a closed door with large television screens and professional recording equipment.
That’s where law enforcement personnel can watch child victims recount their stories to the person interviewing them, avoiding the retraumatization of the children having to tell and retell their stories in interviews with multiple agencies.
The multidisciplinary team includes medical professionals, law enforcement officers, victim advocates and others. Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson has estimated they have a combined 200 years of experience in the field.
“The CJC is the workspace for the (team), where they gather around the child to do their work.” Olson said.
There’s enough room for office space for representatives from the Utah Department of Children and Family Services and other law enforcement personnel, as well as the center’s director, Ted Walker.
It also serves as a training site for those who support the mission of children’s justice and hosts monthly meetings for the team of 30 or so individuals that work on the issue locally.
Christina Sally, an investigator with the County Attorney’s Office, founded the Children’s Justice Center in 2012, bargaining for space from Summit County after the center split off from a facility it shared with Wasatch County.
The center was cleared to move into its new home in December and officials said it has already proven beneficial.
The new site has a bus stop nearby, is a three-minute drive to the courthouse where local cases are tried and offers enough privacy for people who park in the driveway not to have to worry whether neighbors will see their cars.
Recently, the home hosted multiple families whose children had to testify for a court proceeding. The center offered the comforts of a home to grieving families, enough space for privacy and technological support for the children to be able to testify virtually.
“They were brave and strong and testified effectively,” Olson said of the children’s efforts.
Sally said she brought food for the families and that the home offered enough room for a child to have privacy when she broke down crying after testifying, and for a father to step outside and get some fresh air alone with his thoughts.
The center also has a medical suite on site for examinations.
Officials hope to expand the center’s offerings in coming years. They envision group therapy sessions, trauma-informed yoga or maybe an art class.
Olson has also spoken of the need to support those who have experienced secondary trauma like a parent whose child has been abused.
Walker, the center’s director, said that the number of abuse cases has risen 10% compared to last year, even when many children don’t interact regularly with adults like teachers who are required to report signs of abuse if they see them.
He spoke of the importance of increasing awareness around the issue to encourage children and families to come forward.
Sitting in one of the interview rooms, with sunlight pouring in and Cali napping in the corner, Sally said she hoped the center’s comforts would build confidence and resilience in the children who come through its doors.
“The need is there always,” she said.
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