Alana Thoman 
VJN News

A new centre in the Waterloo Region to support children who are victims or witnesses to abuse will ensure they only have to recount their story once to help prevent them from being re-victimized.

The Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) brought child abuse investigators, child protection workers and advocates under the safe roof as a more effective way of help child victims. The centre opened on May 1, 2016.

“We have learned over the years that every time a victim retells their story there is a bit of trauma involved in a reliving of the incident,” said Kevin Thaler, a deputy chief with the WaterlooRegional Police Service. “The less that happens perhaps the better.”

The initiative to open the new centre was spearheaded by the Child Witness Centre under the director of its executive director, Laura Muirhead.

Three years ago a study revealed that a better support system in the region for victims and their families was needed. Most of the participants of the study were victim support workers who felt they could do a better job to help children if the resources were brought together.

“It is evident that while there are services in the community, they are fragmented and it’s difficult for families to navigate what the support services are and how to access them,” Muirhead said.

The CYAC also appoints an advocate to walk child victims and their families through the services available and the police investigation. They introduce victims and their families to police officers, Family and Children Services of Waterloo workers and help conduct interviews, Muirhead said. To help prevent re-victimization, child protection workers and police also sit in on the interview so a child only has to tell their story once.

Thaler said it’s important for victims and their families to know about the resources available and have a discussion about the support they may need in the future. Helping to prepare a victim for the court process and cross-examination, which can be traumatic, is also important.

“Those are the advantages, that from day one the victim of these crimes should feel supported by multiple agencies and multiple layers of expertise,” Thaler said.

The centre is temporarily located at a Waterloo Regional Police station but Muirhead is hopeful that by the fall of 2016 the centre will be in a permanent location that will be a child-friendly.

Muirhead said she hopes the centre will help shine a light onto the issue of child abuse in the community.  

In 2014, Waterloo police investigated more than 450 reports of child abuse Charges were laid in only about 20 per cent of the cases, making it more difficult for families, according to Muirhead.

For more information on the centre, visit http://childwitness.com/what-we-do/child-advocacy-centre/