Silence Violence and Silos – the Big Bear Child & Youth Advocacy Centre Story
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Silence Violence and Silos – the Big Bear Child & Youth Advocacy Centre Story


Across Canada the statistics show it’s one
in three children are abused. And so, when you look at the Kamloops population you are
talking about hundreds and hundreds of kids. If you looking at the region you talking about
thousands and thousands of kids that are being abused annually. Presently we have 133,000
children in the Interior Health Region and if we sort of look at the statistics we’re
looking anywhere between 44,000 – 47,000 children being impacted. Presently the regional SCAN
clinic that is in place sees approximately 100 to 110 children impacted by maltreatment
per year so there is a gap. This gap scales with population and these traumas directly
affect many youth and children who can carry this with them into adulthood. Trauma at this
scale affects society at large in multiple negative ways. Trauma can show up in so many
different ways. It can show up in a child being anxious. It can show up in sleep problems
or it can show up in behavioral concerns at school or at home. It’s related to mental
health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, suicide, quitting school, gang violence; it’s
just correlated with so many things. If the children and youth aren’t properly supported
at the very beginning of when they disclosed being abused. The outcomes have a higher probability
of occurring for kids. If you were to go visit a prison system and interview every single
inmate about their trauma history and ask yourself at what point could this have gone
differently? We know that trauma causes terrible health outcomes and terrible anti-social outcomes.
Trauma is a huge cost to our society. There are clear ripple effects from child maltreatment
and the way in which it is addressed. And, our current system is ill equipped to keep
up and stay effective. Right now when a child does disclose they often are sent to different
places. They might be sent to the Emergency department , they might be sent to the family
physician, they might end up in a walk-in clinic. You roll the dice on whether or not
you encounter people who have the expertise you need to walk your case through the system.
So, that means hoping that the investigator that shows up and takes that call understands
how to talk to a child. The interviewing of victims is a unique technique all on itself.
When you add in the difficulties around children it raises the uniqueness of those interviews
quite a bit. Recognizing that it is very easy to diminish their credibility or completely
remove their credibility you’ll recognize that children are very suggestible. You’ll
want to understand how questions should be formulated. Hoping that that person files
the right report and kicks in the right resources for you. If you get the wrong person who doesn’t
understand or doesn’t know how to respond to a child. The child’s statement is inadmissible
and not credible and can’t be used in any future proceedings. And myself and my colleagues
get calls regularly from defense council asking us to review an interview that’s happened
and if it’s not done well, unfortunately it is a useless piece of evidence. When I think of the gaps it’s good to think
about how the process starts, so if a child makes a disclosure we talk about sometimes
we don’t know where to send them so that’s a gap. Then finally they do figure “Okay,
let’s come to the SCAN clinic” and now let’s interview them. So, maybe they’ve been interviewed
already. Maybe they haven’t been. Then I need to find out what that story is and one of
the gaps is that sometimes the interview happened a week prior and I’m trying to find out from
RCMP what was said and we’re spending a lot of time on the phone phoning RCMP trying to
get transcripts of the interview and so that can be a bit of a stumbling block as well. One of the biggest challenges we face with
community partners is that we all work for different agencies. We all have different
information systems that we access and different protocol around how to access those systems
and information that can be shared. One of the challenges that’s often talked about with children’s experience in the justice system is repeated visits. The constant need for
checking in. Having to go back for a second interview. Having to talk to social workers.
Having to go to a medical visit and just the extent of involvement with the system itself
can be overwhelming and sometimes traumatizing for children in and of itself. With the obvious gaps in the current system
paving the way for miscommunication, future behavioural problems and unnecessary trauma,
we are in need of a solution. An approach that can effectively address these issues
and we’ve learned a better way. A way where all the investigating professionals work together
under one roof to have a collaborated response to maltreatment. Where children and their
families don’t have to travel from building to building to navigate the justice system
on their own. At a CYAC, supporting the child or youth is the first priority. CYAC stands for Child and Youth Advocacy Centre.
Advocacy centers were designed in the States almost fourty years ago and the research and
the evidence-based practice for this model is proven to be the best response to child
maltreatment. We went to many international conferences
for learning and understood that that really was the gold standard and really an essential
service for children. Advocacy centres are operating in over twenty
countries worldwide. There are several in Canada that are open or in various stages
of development. In the end we really all believe that children
are worthy of and deserve a happy and healthy life and unfortunately the reality is that
some children don’t have the opportunity to just be carefree and children. They have been
impacted by witnessing violence or being part of some form of abuse. And so, the model really
is an opportunity for early intervention and to really ensure that we change this trajectory
of their lives. That we have an opportunity to change the course regardless of what brought
them to us in the first place. To get them on track and back to that life that they really
deserve. The biggest impact to resolve whatever is
happening in that child’s life, with the smallest or minimal impact on that child’s life, with
the best opportunity for success for the agencies involved, and bringing everybody into one
spot puts everybody talking on the same page. Gives everybody the opportunity to understand
each other. Which then creates a warm, welcoming, non-threatening, non-TV-show, non stereotype
environment for someone who potentially is going through, really I would say, the worst
possible thing that could be happening to them with the least impact of victimizing
them again. That’s really what the child advocacy groups are about. I think that what they will provide is that
one person that can help them navigate the whole system. So that they can make sure that
they are hooked up with counselling services or the community-based victim service program
and for the parents. It’s that one person who will walk them through the whole process
and stay with them throughout that whole process. Where, if they have questions, they’re not
calling five people to figure out the answer to one question. They can call that one person
and if that one person doesn’t know then at least they’ll know where they can go to get
those questions answered for them. A Child and Youth Advocacy Centre like Big
Bear is a solution and a hope for something better. But what really defines a place like
this is the heart and spirit of the community that surrounds it. And, members of our community
are finding their own way to create something unique and be inclusive of all peoples in
need. I am helping Big Bear CYAC with some carved
objects. Signature objects that help the fundraising drive. We’re talking about a bears head in
sort of this style that I do. You know it’s Big Bear obviously so they have a beautiful
logo with a bear paw and a bears head and we’ve got a couple of preliminary sketches
of that done and you know it will sort of, as things progress, we’ll be able to figure
out exactly what that looks like. When our steering committee was trying to
think of a really good name for our advocacy centre we liked the idea of attaching maybe
an animal to that name and so there was a few animals that we liked when we were thinking
of the advocacy centre. And so I brought those names to different children of all ages and
all cultures and all backgrounds and one hundred percent of them were drawn to the bear. And,
the meaning of the bear. How bear represents strength. How bear represents standing up.
How parents that are supporting kids that are going through this often referred to them
selves as the Mamma Bear or the Papa Bear. We know that the data has showed that Aboriginal
youth are over-represented in this. Unfortunately we have a lot of work to do in the system
to do this. And so, part of our work that we can do collectively is what are the strengths
that we bring together? What are the resources that each organization has and how can we
create sort of a cohesive team to wrap around the youth and so knowing that there are Aboriginal
partners involved in this program, those are the ones from my perspective that we’re really
going to be relying on. What each organization can bring that ultimately supports the child
and supports the family. I think there are opportunities to increase that focused attention
on our youth knowing we are over-represented in some of this work. A Child and Youth Advocacy Centre is an important
addition to any community. I think it is harder to do in smaller communities because it requires
a level of resource that might not already exist within a smaller community. Kamloops
is really on the forefront of responding to child abuse and child neglect in the community.
I think it’s critical that we have that coordinated response because otherwise pieces get missed
and children can fall through the cracks. I guess what I would hope is that people watching
this video,. While I don’t want them to put themselves in the shoes of some of the families
I’ve worked with, I think if they can imagine what it would be like to go through something
like this and know that you don’t have an option. If I could wave a magic wand it would be to
ensure that children can be children and live the life they were intended to live. Truthfully,
that there never was a need for this model in the first place. We have the people. We have a plan and we
have a goal. To remove unnecessary trauma from children’s lives and to give them a chance
to heal and grow when they’ve experienced something horrible that no child should ever
have to endure. The only thing left that we need is your support. So visit www.BigBearCYAC.ca
to find out how you can be a part of this community and become a force of positive change
in our region for all the children and youth that need it.

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