Eight child advocacy centres currently exist within Alberta, acting as an outlet for abused children and youth to receive supports.
The centres provide victims of sexual, mental and physical abuse a space to safely tell their story and be supported through the entire disclosure, investigation and judicial hearing journey, bringing a variety of services under one roof.
Of the Alberta centres, locations in Calgary, Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Lloydminster, Fort McMurray and Red Deer are fully operational. In Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, child advocacy centres are in development, meaning there is currently no fully-operational service located south of Calgary.
Open since January 2019, the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre (CSAC) in Lethbridge is looking to open the Chinook Child Advocacy Centre sometime next year.
CEO Kristine Cassie said the organization has been in the process of getting the service up and running for a while.
“Having the centre in Lethbridge to serve southwestern Alberta would be of great benefit in addressing a lot of the issues that we’re seeing today,” she said.
The CSAC has partnered with the Lethbridge Police Service, Blood Tribe Police Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Children’s Services – South Region, Blood Tribe Child Protection Services, Piikani Child and Family Services, Lethbridge School Division, Crown Prosecutor’s Office and AHS: Addiction and Mental Health.
“I think it’s been well overdue for a number of years within southern Alberta,” said LPS deputy police chief Scott Woods. “The reality is, I think no matter where you’re at and whatever community you’re in, I think it’s one of those things that doesn’t probably get the attention that it deserves.”
According to recent statistics from the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, it’s estimated 1.8 million Albertans have experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime. Of those, 325,000 are children.
A recent campaign called Give Support. Give Hope is calling on community members and organizations to consider donating to the centre’s efforts. Cassie said there is some base funding provided by the province, but the centre needs assistance in funding and in constructing a variety of spaces, including forensic interview rooms and play rooms.
“That’s looking at people adopting a room or being able to provide construction of rooms, the goods that are needed for rooms,” Cassie explained. “So whatever is going to work for people in their way to give.”
The Calgary and Area Child Advocacy Centre has been around for eight years and says its service has proven very beneficial.
“We see almost 2,000 files a year assessed out of the child advocacy centre (in Calgary)”, said CEO Karen Orser. “This is just a really well-known model to make sure that kids aren’t falling through the cracks.”
In Red Deer, around 1,200 children and youth have been supported since that centre opened in 2017, serving more than 84 communities in central Alberta.
“Court-prep opportunities (and) mental health therapy happens right on site here as opposed to them having to go to another building,” said Mark Jones, the CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre. “It takes unimaginable courage for children to come forward, and we can’t fail those children who choose to speak.”
Amanda Bruin of Red Deer now shares her story as a way to educate and inform others about the traumas of childhood sexual abuse.
“My abuse started at the age of eight and lasted until I was 14,” Bruin said. “Personally, I kept my story secret for about 20 years, and you know I went through active addiction and alcoholism in order to cope, because there was no place like the centre in order for me to go to.”
Bruin said when she did come forward, the process was daunting, having to retell her story to three separate RCMP divisions. Child advocacy centres aim to avoid causing that extra trauma.
“As a survivor of abuse, you’re traumatizing yourself over and over again,” Bruin said. “It’s emotionally traumatizing to come forward with that.”
“The centre and the stuff they do, (it) gives you that place to be safe, that hope again.”
More information on the Chinook Child Advocacy Centre can be found here.