For Ginny Becker, championing for the Kelowna Child Advocacy Centre has been an overwhelming task.
Comparing it to swimming upstream against a strong current or climbing a mountain, Becker is executive director of the advocacy centre, one of eight similar facilities either open or in the works across B.C., each following individual mandates with a common purpose – to help meet the needs of vulnerable children in a new meaningful and productive way.
Since the Kelowna centre started a year ago, it has been supported by partner stakeholders Westbank First Nation, Interior Health, B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Elizabeth Fry Society to create what Becker calls a ‘holistic approach to assist victimized children, both the child and their families, before that child’s life goes into a pattern of drug abuse and crime often inspired by mental health and physical abuse issues overlooked under the current social system approach.
Becker appeared before the Interior Health board on June 23, to update them on the advocacy centre’s progress, with the importance of the mission it has taken on reflected by the heavy hitters who supported her presentation: Kelowna detachment RCMP Supt. Kara Triance, WFN Chief Chris Derickson and Terri Lund, a Salmon Arm resident and executive director of the Okanagan region for the ministry of children and family development.
“Every child that comes to us represents the ugliest aspects of humanity, but that child also presents an opportunity to make an impact and create a path of healing for children and their families,” Becker said.
“Talk about it we must as these types of trauma lies at the root of so many social issues that we face today.”
Becker said the advocacy centre is the culmination of a vision six years in the making, seeking an answer to the question of what can be done better to advocate for vulnerable children where the traditional pathways of treatment and social care have failed.
“It is a question that has led us all on an extraordinary journey to where we find ourselves today, serving vulnerable children in an innovative way,” said Becker.
“It is more than investigating cases of child abuse, but also to reduce the impacts of trauma within the current social system with collaboration and teamwork, with a true focus on healing.”
That treatment protocol starts with the basic question of what does a child suffering from a trauma need in the areas of safety and security, physical wellness, a network of support and emotional support, and calling on local resources to meet those needs.
Derickson said Indigenous youth face a higher percentage of impactful neglect, often unacknowledged in the non-Indigenous social service network leaving children indebted with a sense of shame they don’t deserve to inherit.
“There is abuse of all kinds in our communities, but it occurs in much higher numbers for us,” Derickson said.
According Supt. Triance, police officers too often see the results of child neglect and abuse, adolescent teenagers and young adults spiralling out of control in a criminal world with insufficient or overworked outlets to help get them out.
“What the advocacy centre can bring about is meaningful change,” said Triance.
“It is through making an impact on areas of mental health, poverty, homelessness, violence and substance abuse, we know ourselves that starts with childhood trauma. We need to work further upstream to divert children to different pathways to overcome that trauma in their lives and get the health care they need.”
She cited a recent University of Alberta survey of 800 people incarcerated at different institutions, where 95 per cent of the mena and 97 per cent of the women had suffered acute childhood trauma.
“Often we find people have already been sexually or physically victimized before they ever get charged with a crime,” she added.
She reiterated that the criminal justice system can’t solve health issues, that prevention and trauma response initiatives need to be in place, which the advocacy centre is striving to achieve.
“To truly effect change, we need to do that earlier. Long-lasting impacts mean getting it right the first time so people don’t get lost in the criminal justice system,” Triance said.
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