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Front Page » October 4, 2007 » Community service focus » a Safe Place to Be...
Published 2,492 days ago

a Safe Place to Be...


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By TERRY WILLIS
Sun Advocate reporter

The present Childrens Justice Center located on First North and 300 East is becoming too small for the needs of the area.

Most people have seen the white house on the corner of 100 North and 300 East with its yard full of kids. But even after 11 years of existence, many still don't understand what goes on at that house and how it helps the community.

The Family Support and Children's Justice Center was created over a decade ago with money from a grant called the"Family Preservation" fund. A group of individuals who saw the spiraling rates of abuse in the community looked to see what others in the state were doing and decided to make sure those resource were available in the Carbon County area.

At that time all the family support centers and the children's justice centers in the state were located on the Wasatch Front. Funding was only available to serve large population centers. So the group decided to combine the two agencies in the local area and go after funding to support such a center. The strategy worked.

Each of the programs deal with child abuse issues, but in very separate ways.

The Family Support Center is just that; it is a resource to assist families with the prevention of child abuse. The main program with the family support center is the crisis nursery. That name, however, is misleading, because the center operates to be a tool to prevent crisis from happening in any family. The program focuses on primary prevention of child abuse, which means that helps a family before any symptoms of abuse even occur.

The center is set up for use by everyone in the community, not just families that have DCFS (Division of Child and Family Services) involvement. Families with children under eleven years can use the center for respite care (taking a break), medical appointments, job hunting or family emergencies. There is no cost to use the center and it is not an income based program. The center is only able to take eight children at any one time, so there is a priority system in place when the Center begins to fill up. It is open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas day, the staff is available either at the center or on call.

Childrens Justice Center director Shelley Wright takes a minute in her busy day to play with her daughter Allison.� Wright wants people to feel comfortable using the center. Allison spends time at the center when her usual care giver needs to go to a doctors appointment or other errands.

There should be no stigma attached in using the center; anyone can find themselves in a position where they need help with child care functions and there is no one else available to help. Stay-at home moms and other care givers find that drop-in day care is not available in this area for occasional care of small children. Extended family care is not always available either when a sudden need for care is needed. That is when the center can help any family in the community. Because of limited space, and not wanting to compete with licensed day care facilities in the county, the center cannot be used for a parent to go to work or school. Over 385 children spent time at the center last year.

Also located in the facility is the Children's Justice Center (CJC). That agency gets its funding from the Utah Attorney General's office and the primary function of the CJC is to coordinate the investigation of child sex abuse and physical abuse between the various investigating agencies. It does not conduct the investigation, but provides a safe, comfortable place for children and families to come and talk. The CJC has rooms equipped with audio and video taping equipment to document each interview so that children do not have to be brought back in to talk to various people who may be involved with the investigation.

The CJC also protects the community from the types of witch hunts that went on during the 1970's for child sex abuse. By taping each interview, with state-of-the-art techniques, children are not led to any set conclusion during the interview. The CJC provides training opportunities for local law enforcement and DCFS workers to stay up on the best way to interview children. Confidentiality and discretion are at the forefront for the staff as they deal with the families that walk through the doors on a daily basis. The CJC assisted with 119 cases last year. Another 33 at the Emery County outreach office brought the total for the area to 152.

Other programs at the center include an outreach program that helps families who are really struggling with day to day functions, get their lives back together. The staff also goes into the homes of clients to provide the support the family needs in the setting it will be most effective. Thirty two families were assisted by the program last year.

There are parenting classes available for any family that needs the instruction. Thirty one families took advantage of the parenting classes offered last year. There is also a parenting class geared to the special needs of teen parents that is also an in-home program. Last, but not least, is the in-home respite services that are available to any family that has adopted foster children and no longer qualify for services with DCFS. The care occurs at the families home and includes all children, not just the adopted kids.

None of the programs have a cost attached to them and they are not income based. With all the services offered it is not surprising the CJC and the Family Support Center have outgrown their facility. Even with remodeling there is no place to grow. The center can't look at any new programs until they have a place to house them.

There is a push to build a new facility to house the current and future programs. A CIB (Permanent Community Impact Board) grant and loan have been secured to build the new building, but the fund falls short of the actual dollars that will be needed. None of the state funding for regular operations of the center can be used for building a new facility. So the center must not only raise some money for operations on a regular basis but must also acquire more dollars for building the building to supplement the CIB dollars through community fund raising and other donations.

The present center is crowded with lots of space utilization problems. Here an office shares space with the kitchen.

Annually the Harvest Ball remains the main fund raising event for the center. It will be held this year on Oct. 27 at the Elks Lodge. The event draws a large crowd and is a costume ball and dance. A silent auction, with community donations, is a feature of the event.

Until the end of the year, the Sun Advocate will also be donating $5 dollars from every subscription and renewal that is placed toward the operation of the center and the construction of the new facility.

All money raised for the center pays for rent, utilities and items to help families. The community has always been generous to the center and that is what accounts for its success. Local businesses step up and provide needed materials and supplies. Individuals have volunteered and donated money, clothing and furniture.

Director Shelley Wright wants people to know that the program is not a low-income program, but a community program. The center has helped doctor's families as well as those who are financially struggling. Kids that are seen playing out in the yard are not to be pitied, but celebrated knowing that they have been brought to the center by people making good choices for the children they are caring for.

Any family can find themselves looking at a situation of not knowing who to turn to for a moment of help. Think of the center as a surrogate "Grandmas house" to be there when a family needs that extra bit of help.


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