Summit County Children's Justice Center Celebrates New Home Opening In Silver Creek
Summit County is strengthening its resource to combat and treat child abuse.
Private and public stakeholders celebrated the opening of The Children’s Justice Center house, which will investigate child abuse claims. The center doesn’t offer shelter for children, but it does offer support through therapy and classes for children and parents.
Children’s Justice Center Board President Harry Kirschner said the facility, which is in Silver Creek, offers a neutral environment.
"So the whole idea behind the facility is it should be centrally located and accessible," he said. "But it should also feel private and comfortable, like a home because you have a child and family members coming to talk about abuse that has occurred to them. So you want them to feel obviously as relaxed as possible."
The nearly $1.8 million house was funded with money from the county and private donors. It was renovated for another $800,000 to meet ADA regulations for commercial buildings.
It replaces the previous center, a less than 1,000 square foot space in the basement of the Summit County Library.
"Unfortunately, it both lacked the privacy and the space for the professionals to do their job of investigating child abuse and supporting families," he said. "But it also just wasn't large enough for the demand, unfortunately, of cases that had to be investigated in the community."
The new house has enough space for conference rooms, a small kitchen as well as a medical suite.
Christina Sally is the investigator for Summit County’s Attorney’s Office and a child forensic interviewer for the center. She said stakeholders didn’t need any convincing to get on board with a dedicated, independent space for the center.
"We've had tremendous support," Sally said. "I think it's taken a while to recognize that child abuse does happen in our community. Nobody wants to believe that. We live in a great spot. And so we were so fortunate to have a group of people who said, wow - that we have this need."
Kirschner said as the community has grown, incidents of abuse have also grown. New abuse cases have increased by about 10-20% each year since he joined the board eight yeas ago.
"We kind of mirror the national averages," he said. "The statistics are pretty sobering. In the US, I think one in four girls and one in six boys will face abuse by the time they turn 18, either physical or sexual abuse."
And Sally said rates of abuse don’t vary based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion or geography in the county.
"It happens everywhere, and what our goal is, is to bring awareness to the issue so that we don't kind of sweep it under the carpet and say, 'well, geez, it's not my business that this family is having some issues. And maybe I'm concerned about the children, we really have to be able to talk about that to keep the kids safe,'" she said. "Because a lot of times, they don't have their own voice or they're scared to talk about it."
She said there were more cases with the pandemic as children were left at home with their abusers and didn’t have access to normal safe spaces like schools.
In Utah, there’s a mandatory reporting requirement for abuse. Kirschner said people who don’t report abuse are liable.
"We want to get the word out a little bit more so that people know what to do if they suspect abuse," he said. "Because that child, that family is going to be treated well, and we’ll determine ultimately, what the path forward is."
The center had its ribbon cutting event this week, but staff has been using the space since December. There'll be an open house for the public sometime in fall.