We’re sitting with Laura Muirhead, Executive Director of Social Venture Partners’ 2016 Investee, Child Witness Centre, as she details the Safe Hands-Strong Futures Community Campaign launching in support of their work in the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) in Kitchener. Though its official ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on October 24th, the CYAC has already been operating for over a year, facilitating 518 investigations of child abuse in its first 12 months alone.
Listening to Laura, the question that keeps coming up for us is: how do you convey the value of changing the trajectory of someone’s life? Because that is really at the heart of what the CYAC does. A collaboration between Waterloo Region Police Services, Family and Children Services, with Child Witness Centre as the lead agency, the CYAC serves as an investigative and support hub for children and youth who experience or are affected by abuse. Other community agencies involved in the development of this essential service include the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centre through St Mary’s General Hospital, Office of the Crown Attorney Waterloo Region, Lutherwood, and Carizon Family and Community Services.
The goal is to support children, youth and families, to understand their needs, and ensure that they receive the support they need to heal regardless of whether charges are laid; ultimately, to lessen the effect of abuse on an individual’s life course. Child and youth-friendly wait- and interview rooms are designed to put children, youth and their families at ease. Video-recording testimonies and collaboration between the different sectors’ staff are two means of lessening the number of times and the number of people to whom affected children have to tell their story, reducing the risk of re-victimization and re-traumatization, two key factors in responding to and healing from abuse.
As Laura describes the work that CYAC is doing and the response from the community so far, it is obvious that this service is not just for the children and families experiencing abuse, but for our community as a whole. The ripple effects of child abuse are far reaching, from the personal (increased risk of drug abuse and mental illness), to the systematic (greater reliance on social housing, our health and mental health system, and the judicial system) to the cyclical (boys who are abused by a family member are 45x more likely to perpetrate dating violence as adolescents). But it’s not a side of our community that most people know about, or want to know about, which makes the work all more needed and challenging, and hard to fund.
The CYAC has been born out of a spirit of open-mindedness and collaboration from all its Partners. As the lead agency, the Child Witness Centre continues to provide oversight to the Centre and has created a new program – the Child and Youth Advocate Program – which ensures that young people and their families entering the CYAC are supported through the investigation and are connected to the services in the community that will help them begin to heal. Their role in the CYAC has more than doubled their annual operating budget and they need the support of our community to see it through. The Safe Hands–Strong Future campaign aims to raise the $2 million they need to ensure that young people who come to the Centre are supported with a wraparound approach for the next 4 years.
With an average of more than one disclosure of abuse daily, that’s a lot of families and individuals being supported, hands held, and futures strengthened.
To learn more about the CYAC, the Child and Youth Advocate Program and how you can support their campaign, visit the Child Witness Centre’s website here.
Or, if you’d like to talk to Laura to learn more about the work they do and how you could support it, feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519 744-0904.