For a child who has been abused, sexually assaulted or witnessed domestic violence, there is finally a warm welcome centre for them to tell their stories.
Replacing the cold, uncomfortable confines of the local RCMP detachment, the Oak Child and Youth Advocacy Centre officially opened Tuesday.
The centre, located in the former North Okanagan Community Life Society building, is the first of its kind in the Okanagan.
“There’s very few in B.C.,” said Brooke McLardy, acting executive director of the Vernon Women’s Transition House Society, which has administration offices in the building.
Currently, child and youth victims attend the RCMP detachment, where they are interviewed by police as well as the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCDF).
“The children aren’t comfortable,” said McLardy, adding that caregivers are also uneasy. “And depending on how comfortable they are they may or may not tell the whole story.”
The new centre not only provides a more comfortable space for kids to open up, but it allows authorities to work together and perform just one interview.
“With the centre, we can do an interview that is less traumatic for the child,” said Staff Sgt. Rob Daly.
The centre is projecting 250 youth being served a year with the new space.
“We know there are kids out there who aren’t telling their story because they aren’t comfortable,” said McLardy, urging those who are victims or witness to crime to call the RCMP or MCFD.
For social workers trying to assist families and children in such situations, the new centre is a breath of fresh air.
“We are coming from a space that is just a little bit bigger than a desk,” said social worker Nicole Charney. “When you cram a social worker and another member in there it gets very crammed, you can’t move and it gets very hot.”
The centre also includes a kitchen, shared boardroom, intake room, outdoor space and the Kalamalka Rotary Family Room.
“It can be their place if they need to come meet with a lawyer or a counsellor, they can do that here,” said McLardy.
An army of volunteers worked to get the centre ready, including contractors and painters who donated time and supplies.
“With this new centre, we have an amazing opportunity to focus on the best interests of children,” said Michael Gough, MCFD team leader.
Vernon’s Mayor Akbal Mund is also eager to see the centre benefit children.
“We have a beautiful centre here now where we can look after children who need our help.”
There is still some finishing work to be done at the centre, which fundraising will be needed to complete. In the meantime, cases are already coming through the doors.