Victims of child abuse or neglect usually are hesitant to tell their stories. But when they do, they usually must tell them several times to several agencies.
Laura Blanchard, Utah County Child Abuse Council chairwoman, says people are so concerned with prosecuting child-abuse offenders that they often forget the impact the prosecution has on the victim. She said initiating charges against a child abuser, bringing those charges to trial and then "treating" the victim is traumatic - especially when the victim has to tell the story of abuse repeatedly."In many ways we are revictimizing the child when we put him or her through the system," Blanchard said.
Blanchard says a solution to this problem is a child advocacy center, a central place where child abuse victims can report offenses and deal with the appropriate agencies at one location. All interviewing and treatment would be initiated and facilitated from the center.
The trauma and confusion in the handling of child abuse cases could be eliminated. Blanchard says the communication between agencies is often poor, and the current system wastes valuable time and effort that could be used to help prevent child abuse and treat victims. She said the focus should be on treating child abuse victims and strengthening families, not on increasing prosecution.
"Basically what we have now is a system of scheduling appointments and trying to get the people from the various agencies together," Blanchard said.
The few child advocacy centers that exist nationwide have been successful. Proposed legislation would establish a fund to support child advocacy centers in Salt Lake and Weber counties. Blanchard says Utah County has one of the largest child populations in the state and the nation and should be considered for a child advocacy center as well.
"I think Utah County has been overlooked in the kinds of services being provided," Blanchard said. "People often hide their heads in the sand and don't acknowledge that there is a child abuse problem in this county."
Blanchard says the best site for a child advocacy center would be in a home. She hopes that someone will donate a residence for that purpose. She said it would cost between $100,000 and $150,000 annually to operate the center. The center could be financed with grants, donations and, possibly, county funds.
"It's obvious that when child abuse occurs, the community is the one that pays the price. We can either pay it now with more funding or pay it later in more cases," she said.
Blanchard said the reports of child abuse in Utah County have increased by more than 400 percent in the past 10 years. The number of cases reported has leveled off some over the past few years but is still increasing at about 25 percent a year.
"In reality we have to start treating victims appropriately or research shows we are creating another generation of child abusers," she said.
Utah County child abuse or child neglect referrals