Child Advocacy Center getting ready to open
Colorado’s 14th Judicial District will soon have a child advocacy center in Steamboat Springs, where children who are victims of abuse or neglect can participate in forensic interviews and get connected to resources.
The Brighter World Child Advocacy Center is a sister organization of Advocates of Routt County and will be housed next door to Advocates, but it is a partnership between Advocates, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, an organization that works with abused and neglected children in the court system from Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.
Currently, the 14th Judicial District is one of only four in the state that does not have a child advocacy center. The closest centers are in Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge. Planning for the new center began in March 2020.
“It’s long overdue, and I’m really excited at the prospect of it coming together here,” said District Attorney Matt Karzen. “Making these kids comfortable is a moral obligation if we’re going to make them talk about these things.”
When families and children walk into the center, they are first greeted by a large room with video games, a television and board games on one side, and stuffed animals and children’s books on the other. The room is meant to resemble a family room and feel like a welcoming atmosphere for both children and teenagers. Maria Paula Gonzales, the center’s family advocate, will greet children and families, assess their needs and connect them with resources.
“The idea is that when a family walks in, we want them to feel like they’re walking into a family room, so they’re immediately comforted,” said Advocates Executive Director Lisel Petis.
Children are then interviewed by Julia Luciano, a trained forensic interviewer. While Luciano is conducting the interview, law enforcement officers and representatives from the Routt County Department of Human Services are able to watch a live video recording of the interview from another room in the center.
If children need a forensic exam, the hospital has a professional to conduct the exam on site. By having all parties at the center at once, the process becomes easier for children, as having to retell a story and meet with multiple people in different locations can be traumatizing, Luciano said .
“An interview can bring up a lot for a kid,” Luciano said. “This is the place families can go to get whatever they need.”
Gonzales, who used to work as an interpreter at Integrated Community, said she once worked with a Spanish-speaking family who was navigating the court system as domestic violence survivors and remembered feeling frustrated at the extra language barriers the family had to deal with.
“I saw the big need we had in the community,” Gonzales said.
She was also serving on the Advocates board at the time and helped bring the Child Advocacy Center to fruition. Once the center was officially built, Gonzales was recruited to fill the family advocate position because of her previous experience with Advocates, as well as her language skills.
“My goal is to assist families through a process that’s not going to be easy for anyone and just make that process a little bit easier,” Gonzales said. “What I’m hoping is that the experience I have working at Integrated Community will help me be a good resource for people.”
Mark Fitzgerald, Advocates operations and development manager, said a Spanish-speaking advocate working in the center was important because Routt County has a large Spanish-speaking population, which is often underserved due to language barriers.
“We knew there was this community that we weren’t reaching and just being there for them and letting them know that we’re here has opened the door,” Fitzgerald said.
While the center will work directly with law enforcement, Karzen said having children be interviewed by a forensic interviewer rather than a police officer can be much more comforting for the child.
“How you engage with the victim on the front end is going to dictate so much moving forward,” Karzen said. “Doing it the right way builds reliability in the system.”
Advocates will be holding a free concert from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday at Little Toots Park at Yampa and 12th streets to raise awareness and collect donations for the center. The center will officially open Aug. 1.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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