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Advocacy groups forming coalition for youth

Kamloops could have its first youth advocacy centre within a few years depending on the success of a fundraising campaign launching on Thursday.

Kamloops could have its first youth advocacy centre within a few years depending on the success of a fundraising campaign launching on Thursday.

Multiple agencies that investigate alleged child abuse are developing the Big Bear Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (BBCYAC) — where these organizations can work collaboratively under one roof.

On Thursday, the project’s steering committee launches a fundraising campaign aimed at raising up to $7 million over the next two to four years to get the centre built.

The project involves the BBCYAC Society, Kamloops RCMP, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Secwépemc Child and Family Services, Interior Health, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family, the Department of Justice Canada, the province’s community safety and crime prevention branch, the City of Kamloops and Thompson Rivers University.

Tara Ettinger is project co-ordinator for BBCYAC.

“At the moment these agencies work in silos while investigating cases of child abuse and there can be gaps in services when investigations are not co-ordinated, Ettinger said.

“When kids are not supported adequately or appropriately this is when we can see a higher probability of later adverse effects such as substance abuse, poor mental health, homelessness, quitting school, gang activity,” she said.

An advocacy centre would be the best form of early intervention, prioritizing support at the onset of when abuse was first disclosed, Ettinger said, noting it can be stressful for children and parents to navigate the criminal justice system on their own.

The BBCYAC would be a place where organizations like the RCMP and child welfare could conduct interviews together as opposed to subjecting a child to multiple interviews which can be intimidating, Ettinger said.

“This is not changing what is already being done in our community. It just means they’re doing it together and the priority is the child,” said Ettinger.

She said the advocacy centre will also help link victims and families with support services, noting often people don’t follow through on their own in seeking those services.

At the BBCYAC, the child and family will be supported throughout the investigative process, with a multi-disciplinary team in one building strengthening communication between agencies and enhancing efficiency in case-tracking and case management.

Ettinger said the group wants to move Royal Inland Hospital’s Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) clinic into this new facility as well.

While she did not wish to disclose the exact locations being sought, she said the BBCYAC will need to be downtown and close to facilities such as RIH, the RCMP detachment and the courthouse.

Ettinger said they will need about 25,000 square-feet of space for what will be a regional centre.

The goal is to construct a new building, but depending on how fundraising goes, Plan B is to purchase an existing building and renovate it.

The fundraising launch event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. at McArthur Island Sports and Event Centre where community members, organizations and businesses can donate to the cause in either $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000-plus increments.

Specially crafted wooden bear paw-shaped plaques are being carved by local artist Vaughn Warren, and will be placed within the future halls of the centre to demonstrate the first group of funders of BBCYAC.

Following that fundraiser will be the Bright Lights for our Children and Youth event at St. Andrew’s on the Square following the Santa Clause parade in downtown Kamloops on Sunday, Nov. 17.

While this facility will be the first of its kind in Kamloops, Ettinger said the BBCYAC is not “reinventing the wheel.” noting Canada has some 40 of these centres in various stages of development and there are more than 1,000 advocacy centres in the U.S.