Utah County commissioners say they support the concept of a children's justice center in Utah County and will ask local legislators to support a bill that would fund such a center for three years.

The center would be a coordinating facility for prosecution of child-abuse cases and treatment of child-abuse victims. A bill before the Legislature would provide funding for children's justice centers in Salt Lake, Weber and Utah counties. If the legislation passes, each center would receive $100,000 a year for three years. Other funding for the centers would have to come from local government or from private donations.Laura Blanchard, Utah County Child Abuse Council chairwoman, asked commissioners Monday to sign an agreement saying they would support a children's justice center in Utah County. She said Orem and Provo officials already signed a similar letter. Commissioners said they would likely sign a letter of intent supporting the concept Wednesday after the letter is cleared by the county attorney's office.

Blanchard said reported cases of child abuse and child sexual abuse in Utah County have risen dramatically in the last 10 years. In 1980 there were 399 child-abuse or child-neglect referrals. In 1989 there were 1,958 referrals.

Research shows that child-abuse victims have problems later in life in other areas. Most violent criminals have been abused as children. Blanchard said a children's justice center would allow early intervention for treatment of child-abuse victims and could prevent some of the long-term effects of child abuse.

"We see this center as being important to the community as a whole, not just those individuals involved. Child abuse has a ripple effect throughout the community. It affects everyone," she said.

Child-abuse victims often become frustrated with the fragmented system that brings child-abuse offenders to justice, Blanchard said. Questions over jurisdiction and interviews with representatives from several agencies are often confusing and traumatic for young children.

"We owe more than that to the children of our community," Blanchard said. "We need to turn the system from serving the system, into one that's serving the citizens."

The children's justice center would reduce much of the confusion by coordinating efforts of the different agencies involved. A team would be established to handle each case and instead of the child being interviewed by several officials, a representative from that team would conduct all early interviews.

Commissioners agreed with Blanchard and said the county needs to do more to prevent child abuse. They said a center such as the one being proposed would probably be a more effective way of addressing the problem.

Commissioners said prosecution of child-abuse offenders would likely be more efficient with a children's justice center to coordinate efforts.

"To (address the problem) after the fact with young children is really not going to solve the problem. I think prevention is the key," Commissioner Malcolm Beck said.

"If we only respond to abuse already occurring then we'll never catch up," Commissioner Gary Herbert said.