October marks Child Abuse Prevention Month. For Melanie Meier, it holds a personal meaning.
Meier was sexually abused by a family member when she was a young girl. She remembers going to report the abuse during a time when Child Advocacy Centres weren’t around.
She describes the experience as medical, clinical and very adult. Workers gave her a doll and asked Meier to point out where she had been touched.
“After that interaction with the social worker, I said to my mom, ‘I never want to go back there again,'” Meier said. “It was horrendous. It was a little bit traumatic and just wasn’t a comfortable environment.”
Meier is the COO of Atkinson Team at eXp Realty in Lethbridge. Recently, the business made a $100,000 donation to the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre, which will be given over the span of four years, with the first installment already paid.
The money will go toward the Chinook Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, allowing it to expand on the services offered by the sexual assault centre, with a focus on kids and youth.
“This allows children and families to only access one place to receive all of their supports without having to navigate the system and figure out where to go and who to talk to,” said the centre’s manager, Cheryl Patterson.
Child and Youth Advocacy Centres can be found across Canada. They set up a child-friendly environment for families and children to get help dealing with trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences, such as sexual or physical abuse.
Currently, if southern Alberta families are looking to access a CAC, the closest one is located in Calgary. The long drive, overnight stays and financial barriers associated with the costs of getting there, could mean an assault isn’t reported.
“The opportunity to have an advocacy centre within our community is going to have a large impact on the children and the families that we serve,” Patterson said.
“Children and families will be able to come to our centre and have access to law enforcement, children services, counselling, as well as other community referrals all in that child-friendly environment.”
The charity has already reached 20 per cent of its fundraising goal of $632,000. The money will be used for renovations for forensic interviewing rooms, CCTV rooms for court testimony, and creating a safe environment for kids.
“It blows my mind that something like this didn’t exist before, because it seems like such a dead simple concept,” said Meier. “But I’m happy that it’s helping now and I’m happy that we’re able to contribute.”
Meier hopes that by speaking up, and out, about child abuse, other businesses will follow and help make the CAC in Lethbridge available sooner rather than later.
Currently, there is no timeline on when the Chinook Child and Youth Advocacy Centre will open its doors.
“One of the big things for us is we don’t just see this $100,000 as our contribution,” said Meier. “We see this as a contribution to perhaps encourage other businesses in town to contribute as well and join us in getting this centre built.”
Donations can be made on the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre website.
To report a concern about the safety or well-being of any child or youth, people can call the 24-hour confidential Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-KIDS (5437), or contact a local Children’s Services Office, Delegated First Nations Agency or police.
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