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Justice Center helps community children and families

Sun Advocate publisher

The Judge and the Spider (Dennis and Terry Willis) at the Harvest Ball last Saturday night. All the funds from the ball will be used to support the Family Support and Children's Center. Over 235 people attended the annual fund raising event.

Parenting in today's world is not always easy. The full-time job of being a parent is often complicated by jobs and community demands. Parents often find themselves in a balancing act, between their family and job. Parents can often find themselves overwhelmed, exhausted and overstressed.

For these reasons and many others, the Family Support and Children's Justice Center was established in May of 1996, For the past six plus years, the center has sat on the busy corner at 109 North 300 East, while inside a group of professionals help children and families. Terry Willis has served as the director since it began.

Initially the group that began the program secured funding through a three-year federal grant with CAP monies (child abuse prevention). But as the program evolved -it has secured on going state funding and today it serves the community by helping children and their families by building stronger and healthier relationships.

Their only fund-raising effort of the year, the Harvest Ball, was held last Saturday at the Elks Club. Over 235 people turned out, many in costume, to support and recognize the work of the Family Support and Children's Justice Center.

The Center, serving Carbon and Emery counties, is the only center in the state that has two very separate programs. According to Willis, the fact that the counties have small populations and limited funding makes it practical and necessary to house both the Family Support and Children's Justice Center.

Blake and Montana play at the Family Support and Children's Justice Center.

The Family Support and Children's Justice Center is designed to be a resource for parents. "Our safe homelike environment is a place to find help during times of crisis and services to prevent other crisis situations," says Willis.

We work with many different community agencies to provide the best support possible. The Family Support and Children's Center helps parents take control of their lives and strengthen their parenting and coping skills.

Crisis care is the number one priority for using the nursery before all other reasons. The nursery is designed to provide a safe, homelike setting where parents can bring their children when the family is in a stressful situation. Children., who are under 11 years old can stay at the nursery, brought by parents or legal guardians and can stay for up to 72 hours.

"The crisis nursery is intended to be a means of preventing abuse," says Willis, adding, "it is not a drop off day-care program," Some of the reasons for using the nursery include respite, family crisis, court, doctor appointments, medical emergencies, mental health appointments, escaping family violence, attending parenting or divorce classes or attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous meetings.

"The biggest myth about using the center is that it's for abusive families," says Willis. "It's, just the opposite," she explains, "some parents fear that by using the center the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) will think that they are abusing their children, but we do not share any information with DCFS."

The second agency housed on the comer of 108 North and 300 East is the Children's Justice Center. This portion of the facility is a homelike facility that serves children who might have been physically and or sexually abused. The center is designed to help children feel safe and comfortable. The atmosphere is child-friendly and interview rooms are designed with children in mind. Children visit the center while investigators meet with them and their parents.

A multi-disciplinary team coordinates the interview process and assesses the needs of the children -and the families for support services. There are two interview rooms, that are furnished with both audio and video equipment, which provides protection for the child, interviewers, and the community to make sure the children is chorused into saying anything that may not be true. Either DCFS or law enforcement personnel bring the children to the center.

Terry Willis, director of the Family Support and Children's Justice Center, reviews the number of brochures and material available at the center located at 108 North 300 East in Price.

Once a month the staff at the Justice Center reviews all the cases that have come through the center. This is known as the child protection team and is made up of the law enforcement, DCFS, mental health, medical personnel, and county attorney investigator as well as the guardian ad litem representing the children. "They review each case to make sure that it is moving forward," explains, Willis, emphasizing that questions are addressed, such as, is the family getting therapy? Is the child safe? Is more therapy needed? Has someone been arrested? Or is the case ready to be closed?"

"We follow cases for several months to make sure they are progressing and not falling through the cracks," Willis summarized.

A satellite office of the Children's Justice Center is also established in Castle Dale serving Emery County, basically doing the same thing.

"We want people to understand that the facility is available to anyone," Willis says. "We welcome people at all times, and this is an open place where we want to make sure that we are combating the misconceptions that we are here only to serve certain groups."

Shelter care is also available when DCFS needs a safe place to leave a child should they be removed from a home. The reasons are numerous but never because families had used the center for childcare.

In addition to all services listed the center also provides parenting classes, information and referral material, has a large resource lending library and a variety of family support services. The on-going parenting classes assist parents in becoming more effective in their interactions with children. They also assist parents in locating and obtaining information about community services and crisis intervention. Books, videotapes and resources are available to assist parents, teachers and others with parenting skills for all aged youth. The staff is available to talk to parents through parenting issues and minor crises. Referrals and assistance is, available to help parents through their crisis situations.

The Family Support and Children's Justice center served. 339 children during the period beginning July 1, 2001 through June 30, 2002. This is an unduplicated number, while the duplicated number was 1187 children. The center provided eight series of parenting classes and the shelter provided 2491 hours for children. Staff members from the center made 17 presentations during this time period.

The Children's Justice Center served 127 cases during this time with a number of people receiving service which totaled 461 while 96 children were interviewed.

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