Young victims of abuse or violence now have a less traumatic way of disclosing their experiences to the people who want to help.
The Safe Kids and Youth Co-ordinated Response program, or SKY, was unveiled Wednesday in Nelson. It’s the only rural child and youth advocacy model in B.C., and stretches throughout the Kootenay-Boundary.
The initiative, which includes collaboration between the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), the Nelson Police and RCMP, Kootenay Lake Hospital and Victim Services, is meant to remove bureaucratic barriers for victims aged 19 and under who come forward.
Previously a victim who alleged abuse would have to make multiple statements well before needing to make another public disclosure if their case went to court.
“So this child would be telling their story over and over, which can often re-traumatize them,” said Krysta Aronson, the SKY co-ordinator for the Nelson area.
“With the SKY protocol, it now allows children and youth to minimize the amount of time they have to tell their story. The extra support allows less risk for re-traumatization in the system.”
SKY currently has co-ordinators in place in Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, Nakusp, Grand Forks, Kaslo and Salmo. It’s their job to be on the front line of response, and help the victim as well as their families navigate support systems.
That includes everything from an initial statement, which depending on the victim’s request may or may not include police, to hospital visits and eventually court preparation if the case advances that far.
“Families were [previously] left on their own to know who to call for what situation,” said Aronson.
“They would be the ones who were directly communicating with all these different agencies that are now involved in their family, like MCFD and police.
“Now we have a more co-ordinated response. They can call any one of us, or they can call the SKY co-ordinator who can give them updates on all those different agencies’ involvement in their family. It makes it a little simpler for families.”
The SKY project has been in the making since a feasibility study for a child advocacy centre was given the green light in 2011.
Lynda Dechief, the regional co-ordinator for SKY, said the program came about after agencies recognized the old system didn’t encourage communication.
“It wasn’t the fault of any particular agency, everybody was doing what they were supposed to do within their mandate,” said Dechief. “But some were working in silos. So those folks whose job it was to support the victims were seeing this could be done better.”
Once organizers had a model, the Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative was given $350,000 in federal funding in 2014 and later another $50,000 from the province. The last three years were used to set up the new system, which included training 25 health care professionals throughout the region to do sexual assault examinations.
Child-friendly interview rooms have also been installed in each city except Kaslo and Salmo, which are expected to have theirs soon.
Just one interviewer speaks with victims now following discussion between police and the MCFD. Because the interview is video taped, it can also in some cases mean the victim doesn’t need to testify in court.
Contact information for each region’s co-ordinator can be found at http://thekoop.ca/about/projects/sky-coord-response/.